Paul Sullivan: No matter which plan MLB uses, we need more coronavirus testing before the games can resume

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Major League Baseball’s latest plan to return to action, featuring three geographically divided, 10-team divisions, has one similarity with previous plans of playing games only in Arizona, in both Arizona and Florida, and in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

All include playing in empty ballparks, at least at the outset of the season.

But the latest MLB plan at least has teams playing in their own ballparks, which would provide a small bit of comfort for fans and allow players to live in their houses or rental units.

Whether any of the plans will get the approval of the owners and players remains to be seen, but as long as MLB keeps floating new ideas, I suppose we should be happy. It keeps hope alive that there will be baseball this year and for the time being gives us something to talk about other than Michael Jordan.

The new plan, first reported by USA Today, is similar one I proposed a few weeks ago. Mine had four regional divisions — the Northeast, Midwest, West and South — while MLB’s plan has three — the East, Central and West. The idea is to reduce team travel while we still are dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

The latest MLB plan would place the Cubs and White Sox in a division with seven other Midwest teams: the Cardinals, Indians, Brewers, Twins, Royals, Reds and Tigers. The Braves also would be thrown into the Central because the East already is filled — and apparently it would be preposterous to put them in the West.

Of course, the Braves played in the NL West from 1969-1993, and no one seemed to mind. My plan had them in the South with the Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, Rays and Marlins, which also was not ideal. I preferred four divisions to three, but whatever.

No matter how many divisions or where teams play, the bottom line is we need more COVID-19 testing in place before we can contemplate beginning spring training 2.0 and getting the season rolling. If July 2 is the target date for the opener, workouts need to begin in a month to get pitchers’ arms ready.

While MLB’s latest plan allows for the possibility of playing before fans with a “percentage of seats sold” if conditions improve later in the year, according to the Associated Press, empty ballparks appear to be the only realistic option. Fans probably would accept that. According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 91% of respondents said it was a bad idea to allow large groups of people to attend sporting events without further testing for the coronavirus.

And if games are played in empty ballparks, players’ salaries would have to be reduced. By exactly how much is something they’ll need to work out, but if greed prevents the season from being played, the game never will recover. It’s also too bad that prospective free agents probably won’t be getting $300 million contracts or 10-year contract offers in the next few years, but that’s a problem for another day.

For now, the only issue should be getting back on the field safely and returning some sense of normalcy to our lives.

If MLB goes with the latest plan, we at least can enjoy watching our favorite teams play in familiar environs and perhaps listening to comforting voices such as Pat Hughes describe the action while we sit on our porches on a hot summer night.

So many questions have yet to be answered, even if a proposal is in place.

Can Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers be ticketed outside Wrigley Field for wooing without a face mask? Will rooftop viewing be allowed even if Wrigley is empty? Can there be a seventh-inning stretch without fans, much less a B-list celebrity to sing? Will Mayor Lori Lightfoot drive by the corner of Waveland and Kenmore avenues and yell at the ballhawks to stop congregating outside the left-field bleachers?

Until we get some clarity from MLB, we only can guess. And of course, it’s not even May and we already have four plans to debate.

At the rate the sports world is moving, I’m guessing the next plan to be leaked will involve playing in Michael Jordan’s backyard in Florida.


©2020 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.