I love baseball. I really miss baseball. But this decision makes no business sense to me at all.
Why would Major League Baseball force its most valuable assets, its players, to risk contracting COVID-19 with possible long-term debilitating effects that could cut short their career, or even result in death? Just for TV revenue from a truncated season? “The year without baseball” will live in baseball lore.
The warning signs were already there last Friday. MLB’s positive coronavirus tests spur closing of all spring training complexes:
Major League Baseball is closing the doors to all 30 teams’ spring training complexes in the wake of players from four different teams testing positive for or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
The Philadelphia Phillies confirmed Friday that eight people — five players and three staffers — tested positive, with 32 more were awaiting test results. The Toronto Blue Jays confirmed that testing was underway after one of their players exhibited symptoms. The Houston Astros confirmed one of their players tested positive. And two members of the Los Angeles Angels tested positive, as well, though neither was working out at a team facility in either Arizona or Anaheim.
The league is reportedly mandating that every facility undergoes a deep cleaning and establishing that no players or staff members may return before testing negative for COVID-19.
The flood of troublesome news — this was all reported and/or confirmed within the span of several hours — comes roughly a week before the league hoped to start a second round of spring training ahead of a shortened 2020 season.
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More than a threat to preseason workouts, however, the rising number of COVID-19 infections in numerous states across the country poses a larger threat to the season reaching its conclusion or happening at all.
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The league has additionally been adamant about the regular season wrapping by the end of September and the postseason ending by the close of October, fearful of a “second wave” of infections. But the home states of more than half the league’s teams are experiencing a rising number of cases right now.
That includes Florida, home to two teams’ home ballparks and half the league’s spring training facilities, where this week the state averaged more than 2,400 new cases per day. Texas, home to a pair of teams, averaged more than 2,600 new cases per day this week. Arizona, home of one team and the other half of the league’s spring training complexes, averaged more than 1,700 new cases per day this week. California, the country’s most populous state and home to five major league teams, averaged more than 3,300 new cases per day this week.
Those numbers are sobering and as impactful a reminder as any that, with the status of the pandemic what it is in the United States, it might simply not be a good idea to stage a professional sports season.
The Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board opposed the club owners’ 60-game regular season after MLB officials decided against a counteroffer of the union’s 70-game season. The board voted 33-5 to reject the deal, according to the Associated Press.
Within hours of the MLBPA’s statement, the MLB released its own statement informing the union it would “proceed with the 2020 season under the terms of the March 26th Agreement,” which allows MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to determine the number of games the league will play. MLB plans 60-game slate, shortest since 1878, as union balks:
Major League Baseball plans to unilaterally impose a 60-game schedule for its shortest season since 1878 after the players’ association rejected a negotiated deal of the same length, putting the sport on track for a combative return to the field amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark met last week and outlined plans that included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 16, widening use of the designated hitter to National League games and an experiment to start extra innings with a runner on second base. But the latest version of the deal proposed by MLB was rejected by the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board in a 33-5 vote on Monday.
Those innovations now disappear. [Good!]
“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”
MLB’s control owners approved going unilaterally with the 60-game schedule in ballparks without fans if the final arrangements can be put in place, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.
MLB asked the union to respond by 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday as to whether players can report to training by July 1 and whether the players’ association will agree on the operating manual of health and safety protocols. The schedule would be the shortest since the National League’s third season.
Given the need for three days of virus testing and 21 days of workouts, opening day likely would be during the final week of July. MLB already has started to investigate charter flights that could bring players back from Latin America, another person told the AP, also on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.
The union announced its rejection, and the vote total was confirmed by a person familiar with that meeting who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the balloting was not made public. The decision likely will provoke what figures to be lengthy and costly litigation over the impact of the coronavirus on the sport, similar to the collusion cases that sent baseball spiraling to a spring training lockout in 1990 and a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.
It also eliminates a $25 million postseason players’ pool, meaning players will not get paid anything above meal money during the playoffs and World Series, and the clubs’ offer to forgive $33 million in salary advanced to 769 players at the bottom of the salary scale with lower rates of pay while in the minors: $16,500, $30,000 or $60,000 for each of them.
Teams lose what would have been a new right to sell advertising patches on uniforms, broadcast enhancements such as having players wear microphones during games and a 2020 suspension of the luxury tax that for a 60-game season projected to save the New York Yankees $8.5 million, Houston $3 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers $434,000 and the Chicago Cubs $116,000.
Manfred loses what would have been an additional $60 million to the commissioner’s discretionary fund.
The union said in a statement that the “board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible.”
“To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule,” the union said.
While the framework had included the expanded playoffs for both 2020 and 2021, and Manfred offered to drop it from the second season if players feared it would decrease their future bargaining leverage.
Players are expected to file a grievance, claiming MLB violated a provision in the March agreement requiring both sides to “work in good faith to as soon as is practicable commence play, and complete the fullest 2020 championship season and postseason that is economically feasible” consistent with several provisions. MLB is expected to file a grievance accusing the union of negotiating in bad faith.
Arbitrator Mark Irvings would hear the case. If the union proves a longer schedule had been feasible, each game on the schedule would be worth $25 million in salary across the 30 teams.
Reduced revenue for clubs this year is expected to cause a drop in the free-agent market, which next offseason is slated to include Mookie Betts, George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, James Paxton, Marcus Stroman and Bauer.
All the while, the coronavirus upended plans of many clubs to resume training at their Florida facilities due to a rise in virus cases in the state. Twenty-nine teams intend to work out in their regular-season ballparks, with Toronto awaiting additional talks with the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments.
The sides have discussed expanding rosters to 30 active players during the season’s first two weeks, and 28 during the third and fourth weeks before settling in at the new 26-player limit. Because there are no minor league affiliates playing, each team would keep 60 players around.
More bickering and turmoil lies ahead. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021, and the virus damaged the already deteriorated relationship and became just another of the financial issues that point toward a spring training lockout ahead of the 2022 season.
“If there’s going to be a fight the time for that fight is after the ’21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. 5 years of potential change,” Bauer tweeted. “We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months.”
Baseball already had to shut down its training facilities due to COVID-19 outbreaks on Friday. Now the commissioner of baseball wants to order players back on July 1 for three weeks of “spring” training, before a truncated 60 game season.
So what if there is a further COVID-19 outbreak during this three weeks of “spring” training? Does the league shut down training facilities again? Let’s say the league gets lucky with “spring” training, and gets two or three weeks into the season when there is yet another COVID-19 outbreak among players and coaches. Does the league shut it all down then? Or let’s say the league really gets lucky and makes it all the way to the end of the truncated regular season when the anticipated “second wave” of COVID-19 hits the cities of the playoff teams. Does the league cancel the playoffs? The World Series?
This all sounds more like a hope and prayer than an actual plan.
I think it is safe to say that when the first highly regarded superstar of the game contracts COVID-19 from on field play and becomes seriously ill, or God forbid dies, that’s when the Major League Baseball Players Association is going to put an end to this experiment.
By the way, college and NFL football training facilities are already being hit by COVID-19 as well. College Football Hit by Coronavirus:
The coronavirus is hitting big-time college football teams, which were allowed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to begin voluntary practices June 1.
Louisiana State University, the defending national champion, confirmed that at least 30 players are in quarantine because they tested positive for COVID-19 or were found to have contact with individuals who tested positive, according to WAFB Channel 9, a CBS affiliate. Some players were quarantined after visiting LSU-area bars, which have been linked to an outbreak of COVID cases.
At Clemson University, 28 athletes have tested positive for COVID since the return to practice, including 23 football players, according to ESPN. Thirteen players at the University of Texas at Austin have tested positive, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and another 10 were self-isolating due to contact with individuals who tested positive.
Kansas State University announced on Saturday it was suspending practices for 14 days after 14 athletes tested positive; more than 130 athletes were tested in all. “Following the most recent test results, we felt like temporarily pausing all football workouts and access to our facilities was the best decision for everyone,” Gene Taylor, Kansas’s athletics director, said in a statement. “We continue to take this situation very seriously and want to do everything we can to get back to workouts soon.”
The University of Houston also announced a pause in voluntary workouts June 12 after six symptomatic athletes tested positive for COVID. Other universities that have reported positive tests for football players include the Universities of Alabama, Mississippi and South Florida as well as Auburn, Florida State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas State and Troy Universities.
The spate of positive tests involving college football players coincided with a warning from the United States’ leading infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, that football may not be possible this fall, at least not without isolation of the players in their own “bubble.” Football may not happen at all this year, Fauci warns:
“If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Naturally, the pandemic denier and Twitter-troll-in-chief clapped back at Fauci’s statement.
[Last week], several Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans players tested positive for the coronavirus, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. None of the players were in the teams’ facilities, and both teams followed proper health protocols, per the report.
NFLPA President and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter cautioned last month in a conference call with Browns reporters that the coronavirus will set the timeline.
“You have to focus on fitting football inside of this world of coronavirus and not get caught up in trying to fit coronavirus inside of this world,‘’ he said on a Zoom call. “The way coronavirus has changed how every industry is working, you can’t expect just to throw football back in and think that the virus is going to kneel down to almighty football.
“You have to look through different ways of making sure people stay healthy.‘’
“This is a contact disease and we play a contact sport,‘’ he said. “The way this thing passes along is through contact, and that is what we do for a living. The way we interact with each other at the facility, at practice, weight lifting and at the meal room, it is us shoulder-to-shoulder standing by each other and passing things around.
“There is a long list of ideas we need to come up with to make this environment safe for us. That is why there is going to be a lot of thinking involved in it. That is why we have conversations and calls, and we are looking at it every day.”
When NFL training camps open in late July, we are about to find out if it is possible to play football and to protect players health at the same time.