BALTIMORE — Like a lot of you, I can’t wait for the day that the coronavirus pandemic relents sufficiently that I don’t have to get my sports fix by watching Cal Ripken’s 2,031st consecutive game for the 14th time. But that day should only come when it is safe for all of us to resume the normal rhythms of life.
Major League Baseball is an important part of that, which is why there has been so much time spent speculating about the moment when the 2020 season can begin and just how much of each team’s 162-game regular season schedule can be salvaged once the appropriate experts and government officials say it’s OK to go out and play.
Which brings us to the Arizona alternative.
It caused quite a stir when ESPN reported earlier this week that MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association have discussed a plan that would allow the season to start in late May or early June with all games played in Arizona without fans until teams can safely return to their home ballparks.
Though the Commissioner’s Office walked that back quite a bit Tuesday, insisting that there are several scenarios under consideration, the idea continues to be a hot topic of conversation and might represent the only chance for MLB to avoid losing at least half of its normal schedule.
The fact that the idea is impractical from a logistical standpoint and probably would be dangerous to public health almost certainly will prevent it from it becoming a real option, but the amount of revenue that will be forfeited by the major sports leagues if nationwide stay-at-home orders persist well into the summer makes even extreme solutions seem plausible.
MLB should disavow this one entirely and end the debate.
Such a plan would require thousands of players, staff members, baseball officials and media to travel to Arizona and essentially be quarantined in hotels between bus trips to play at Chase Field or the 10 spring training stadiums within driving distance of downtown Phoenix.
Though the games would be played without fans in attendance, those sites would require local workers to prepare the fields and handle other necessary ballpark operations, police and security guards to create a safe perimeter around each facility and hotel staffs to attend to a diverse collection of players from multiple countries.
This logistical nightmare would also have to include regular COVID-19 testing for everyone inside that bubble, which could create a public relations backlash if that universal level of testing isn’t yet available to the general public.
Even if all that could be executed perfectly, this preternatural W.P. Kinsella novel of a baseball season would place an additional burden on a public health system in the Phoenix area that presumably would still be dealing with the scourge of coronavirus pandemic.
There already is resistance forming to the idea inside the sport. We can all be confident that when push comes to shove, the owners and the union will not be able to agree on a way to further prorate the already prorated player salaries to compensate for the lack of gate receipts.
Make no mistake. For all the talk about the integrity of the baseball schedule and the desire to give fans a televised product to help them get through this prolonged lockdown period, the main driver of this conversation is the television money that can be recouped once on-field operations resume.
That’s obviously a real issue for sports that annually reap billions of dollars in revenue, but this is not a viable solution.
Major League Baseball and its players are going to have to realize that they are far better equipped to ride out the worst of this pandemic than the average fan or the small businesses that are closing up all over the country.
The experts still can’t predict with any accuracy when the spread of the virus will subside sufficiently to allow us to safely stand within 3 feet of each other, so let’s not fool ourselves that the MLB season could safely begin six or seven weeks from now.
We’d all love to be able to say that, but it’s still too early to project that there will be a season at all.
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