In the near future, professional basketball, soccer and hockey will make their long-awaited return to the United States after all leagues suspended their seasons in mid March due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Major League Baseball has yet to agree on what a 2020 season will look like. How many games, where can games be played and, the “million-dollar question,” what will players’ salaries look like? Let’s examine the feud and scout some possible locations for a shortened 2020 season.
The entire feud essentially boils down to one centralized point: money. On one side, you have the team owners. On the other, you have the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA). The owners, losing money from lost box office and stadium revenue, are asking the players to take a pay cut. On the other hand, the players are asking for prorated salaries. The players desire more games than the owners, which would tip the scale in the amount of money they could earn in 2020.
There was already bad blood between the players and the owners, and it’s likely this confrontation would have occurred down the road. However, the coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the timeline, but also threw the most important factor into the picture: health. How do we keep all personnel safe when we do restart? What will protocol be when someone tests positive? Testing and relative isolation seem to be the way to proceed.
So, if we have enough means to frequently test personnel and feel health and safety can be ensured, where can baseball be played? First, state regulations will need to allow professional sports to resume. There will almost 100% guaranteed be a ban on public attendance.
Perhaps the easiest answer is all teams play in their designated ballparks and only play divisional/regional teams. However, depending on the team, that could mean a lot of added expenses for travel and accommodation. For example, Seattle and Houston in the AL West. Or New York and Miami in the NL East. It’s definitely not the simplest and the transportation costs would be many times more than teams quarantined in one city, which leads us to...
All teams in one city, which is the move the NBA and MLS are making. MLS will begin July 8 and the NBA is planning a restart of July 31, both in Orlando. Hosting MLB games in one city is only doable if you have ample, available sites as well as enough testing equipment. Right now, the two most obvious choices for this would be Florida and Arizona, the states hosting the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, respectively. With regard to Arizona, I can tell you from experience, the summers there are anything but enjoyable. It is blazing every single day with many afternoons in the Phoenix area rising above a sizzling 110 degrees. “But it’s a dry heat” is probably one of the most overused Arizona weather phrases. True, Arizona does not experience the almost year-round high humidity levels in Georgia or Florida, but that does not mean 105-115 degrees with no reprieve from the sunlight is any more ideal. And at night, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to linger in the low 90s and upper 80s. Now factor in a 2.5-hour baseball game plus Arizona’s upward trending confirmed COVID-19 numbers. Despite the relative close proximity of Arizona’s spring training facilities, this location does not seem ideal at this time.
Florida, on the other hand, might not have as high temperatures, but that summer humidity takes on a new definition of sweltering pain. The other issue is spring training facilities are more widespread across the southern half of the state. Unlike the Cactus League facilities in Arizona, the Grapefruit League’s are farther apart, meaning after every series, teams would have to ride a bus for a few hours to another stadium (might be a trip down Minor League memory lane for some). Two, possibly three teams might be able to share training facilities, pending they were cleaned after every use. Each team would be granted a set time to work out, as well as get on-field work in.
It’s possible to separate the 30 clubs between Arizona and Florida by league. American League would compete in one locale while National League in another. This way, all teams would play divisional opponents as well as other teams in the same league. The only thing missing would be inter-league play, but with an already shortened season, it would be hard-pressing to squeeze those contests in.
There are no simple solutions to problems when millions is involved. Negotiations between the owners and players have been bogged down and muddied with a seemingly large gap between the two, compounded by the health concerns of the COVID-19 crisis. The disagreement and lack of compromise has become a source of frustration for America’s (and the world’s) MLB fans. It’s easy to point to these negotiations over money as petty when millions of people remain without work, some of those struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, as a result of the pandemic. If America’s pastime would like to be seen as a uniting force in a time of deep division, coming back, at least in some shortened form, would be a welcome distraction for the country. A resurgence. The voices for systematic change are deafening, and given an upcoming presidential election in November, we could use some October baseball before that.