If you’ve lost track of where Major League Baseball stands in its quest to have some sort of season amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, I can’t blame you. It seems as though a new proposal comes out weekly — if not daily — and another just trickled out Tuesday with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reporting on an optimistic plan that would allow teams to play in their own stadiums (albeit with no fans), and in a strange three-division alignment.
I imagine these things leak out for a variety of reasons — including the self-interest of those leaking the information — but none bigger than the desire of those involved to be optimistic about the future. It’s nice to think about baseball being played in some way, shape or form this summer.
Whether it’s realistic is another question. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a New York Times interview Tuesday — a Q&A specifically about the possible resumption of sports — that “I would love to be able to have all sports back. But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet. We might be ready, depending upon what the sport is. But right now, we’re not.”
But it seems pretty clear that no option too far-fetched to be considered by MLB decision-makers. Here is a rundown of what seem to be the most viable and/or discussed plans for an MLB season, along with the benefits, drawbacks and hurdles in each case.
*The home stadium option: Nightengale reports that the latest proposal being considered by MLB would keep teams in their home cities.
Major League Baseball officials have become cautiously optimistic this week that the season will start in late June, and no later than July 2, playing at least 100 regular-season games, according to three executives with knowledge of the talks. They requested anonymity because the plan is still under consideration. And not only would baseball be played, but it would be played in their own major-league ballparks, albeit with no fans.
That does sound … optimistic. There would be three divisions with 10 teams each, eradicating the traditional American and National Leagues. Teams would play each other within those divisions, with the Twins joined by the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers in the Central before an expanded playoff format.
The advantage of this is clear: Players wouldn’t need to be isolated away from their families, and games would at least retain a familiar look — even without fans — on television. That said, the health risk inherent in that advantage is a significant hurdle.
Speaking in general terms in that NYT Q&A, Fauci said: “I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative. That’s going to be logistically difficult, but there’s at least the possibility of doing that. In other words, we said that for baseball, get the players in Major League Baseball, get a couple of cities and a couple of hotels, get them tested and keep them segregated. I know it’s going to be difficult for them not to be out in society, but that may be the price you pay if you want to play ball.”
*The Arizona option: That Fauci quote isn’t a specific endorsement of an idea first floated a few weeks ago to play all games in Arizona, with players and other essential staff sequestered. But it does make it sound like — at least at the moment — that would be the safest option if there are, indeed, games this year.
Under that plan, Arizona’s one MLB stadium (Chase Field) and several surrounding spring training facilities would be used to play all the games. Chase Field has an artificial surface and could host several games a day.
But several prominent players, including Mike Trout, sound less than enthusiastic about the prospect of being quarantined away from their families for months at a time.
When the Arizona plan leaked, the MLB commissioner’s office put out a statement that read: “MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”
*The hubs option: Last week, the flavor of the moment idea involved using Arizona, Florida and Texas as hubs to host 8-12 teams each. This is essentially a similar idea to the Arizona plan, but expanded to more locations.
Much like the divisions plan reported in USA Today, one imagines this plan would focus competition between teams in each location instead of against every other team in MLB. The Arizona plan is the only one that seems to make it feasible to keep the current division and schedule alignment intact by allowing all teams to compete against each other.
*Maybe just a World Cup-style tournament? Yeah, this one is pretty wacky. But it was mentioned in a Jeff Passan 20 Questions piece this week. What if they can’t get things rolling until much later in the summer or fall? What about a two-month tournament? Passan writes:
Everyone wants the closest thing to a 162-game schedule. The absence of that or anything resembling it, however, doesn’t necessarily preclude something truly imaginative from taking place.
“Give us 60 days,” one official said, “and we could run an amazing tournament.”
I thought about it and came up with this idea, which essentially would function as a baseball World Cup. The format: six hubs, five teams per hub. You could choose hub teams by division, which would be easy, or by geographic location with mixed leagues if you want to get really wild.
This might be kind of fun. But it’s hard to imagine getting ready for an entire year just to guarantee every team a small fraction of the regularly allotted games.
In all of this, two things are consistent:
One, MLB seems very determined to have a season. Passan asserts a season of some sort “will” happen and that “nearly everyone along the decision-making continuum … has grown increasingly optimistic that there will be baseball this year.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred has said similar things as well.
Two, every proposal on the table is nothing like a baseball season as we know it and would not involve fans in the stands.
They all are focused on the idea that something is better than nothing and on making the most of a bad situation. The next month or so will give us a lot of clarity as to what — if anything — is possible for MLB this season.