Risky Business: On The Possible Return Of Baseball
We’ve officially learned a little bit now about MLB’s extremely tentative plans to attempt a return to games in the near future. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that states are easing the coronavirus restrictions that have helped control its spread and given those at the healthcare front lines the much needed cushion they needed in order to avoid being overwhelmed with an avalanche of cases. In the real world, and in the world of baseball, the impetus for making these decisions in baseball is basically a 100 percent economic one.
There’s at least a rational argument for reopening the economy generally, with out-of-control unemployment rates and huge numbers of people struggling to pay rent and put food on their tables. Whether such a move ends up actually being successful hinges largely on moves made to ensure that reopening is done safely and doesn’t cause us to have to go back into hibernation mode all over again. On the other hand, finding a legitimate argument for bringing back baseball proves much more ephemeral, and much of what we’ve heard as of late doesn’t bode particularly well.
If you’re reading this, then you’re clearly ready for baseball to come back. Tiger King was entertaining and all, but I could really do with the sweet, sweet sound of an MLB radio broadcast playing in the background while I’m working or cooking. I’m also running out of TV that I truly want to watch and would be absolutely overjoyed to tune into a Royals-Orioles game right about now, which is not something I ever imagined I would write in 2020. But just because we want something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I went all in on a second helping of fatty brisket yesterday, and paid the price today. We definitely don’t need baseball back, so, if it’s coming back, they’d better have all the ins and outs sorted, because we’re talking about something a few degrees more serious than the meat sweats.
We know the league has presented the MLBPA with a proposal to get games going again, and some facets of the plan are totally unsurprising. Games will be played without crowds, and there will be a massive testing regimen to make sure players aren’t sick. During the regular season, a team will only play its division rivals and the teams in the same division from the other league (e.g., AL East teams will only play AL East and NL East teams), cutting down on the amount of travel required.
Some are a tad more interesting, like the fact that they’re talking about adopting a universal DH, just for this season, and have already agreed to expand the postseason to include 14 teams. If you were excited for the fact that a shortened season was going to mean a lot more statistical noise and the possibility of something ridiculous happening over a smaller sample size, letting a whole bunch more teams into the dance means it could turn into a mosh pit. I’m all in on partying like it’s 2012 with a Tigers-Giants World Series, everyone. Just for the LOLs.
But I’m not all in on the fact that there are still so many issues to be sorted out here. There are a mess of players with preexisting conditions that we know about, such as Kenley Jansen, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo. There are also presumably a ton more that we don’t know about, and things get even thornier when we start talking about folks with family members that need to be extra careful. Service time considerations are a legitimate source of concern for the players. If you’re supposed to hit free agency this winter, and you’re perfectly healthy yourself but you’ve got someone in your family who isn’t, how does that shake out? They can’t make people play, but it’s a thorny issue in both baseball and the real world to ostensibly force people to go back to work when there’s a legitimate concern that doing so might endanger lives.
But, maybe even more problematically from a logistical perspective, MLB hasn’t really sorted out what they’re going to do in the event that someone actually tests positive.. While we’ve learned that they’ve gone into excruciating detail in terms of providing an outline for how they’re going to prevent anyone from getting sick, there are scant details about what they’re going to do when somebody does. And there are far too many people involved in the equation of getting baseball up and running to believe that it won’t happen.
Despite MLB indicating that they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure that the PPE and tests that they’re going to need (which is going to be a LOT) won’t take anything away from the medical professionals, whom we need a lot more than we need baseball, it’s really hard to imagine that’s true, and there’s basically no way to argue that this is the best use of resources in a time when people are still dying in large numbers throughout the country.
I want baseball to come back, but not at the expense of people’s lives, and it’s not really clear that MLB has really figured everything out. There are still a ton of hurdles to clear before this could feasibly happen. The players’ union is (rightfully) not particularly thrilled that the owners finally put revenue sharing on the table in a season when there’s going to be a lot less revenue available to share, and it’s pretty clearly a half-assed attempt to pay players less than they would’ve. But at least it reminds us of what’s really going on here, and that this is all about the Benjamins. And at least baseball players have a union looking out for them, something that a lot of Americans probably wish they had right now.
There’s been a lot of talk about baseball “healing the country,” from political figures and the commissioner himself. While that’s a romantic notion, it’s pretty much garbage. Baseball isn’t going to heal the country; what’s going to heal the country is a vaccine, and we don’t know when one is coming. Short of that, we need smart, scientific decisions that aren’t motivated purely by profit, and I’m far from convinced that having baseball right now fits into that category. I’m dreaming of the day when baseball comes back, but I’d rather dream on it a little longer than have it happen too soon at the expense of other things that are far more important.