As fans become increasingly desperate for their favorite sports to return, ideas on safely restarting pro sports are everywhere. For most leagues, the details are far from concrete. But for MLB, owners already have a solution in mind. And the owners, at least, are on board.
Players are another story. Notoriously fierce sports agent Scott Boras has his own ideas on getting back to baseball. But he and many players demand greater guarantees of player safety and compensation first. Will MLB come to a solution that gets us back to baseball? If they do, where’s the balance between brave decisions and downright craziness?
MLB’s current plan for bringing back baseball
Before games shut down, MLB was ready with various contingency plans to consider just in case. COVID-19 raged in parts of Asia, and emerged in South Korea weeks before sports ended in the United States. Many inside the league felt they had to prepare for the sudden end of the 2020 season.
The initial plan they were rumored to float was a jarring one. Reporting for the Athletic, Ken Rosenthal laid it out. 100 games at most, starting either mid-June or at the start of July. The postseason would be extended, wrapping up with the World Series in early December. And, most shockingly, there would be no National League/American League divide. The 30 teams would play in three divisions based on region.
The final plan ended up being an adjusted version of the one Rosenthal heard about, reports CBS Sports. The three regional divisions were split up further, for a total of six, with two divisions in the same region mostly playing each other. There would be 82 games, with a mid-July start. And the most controversial element came in intact.
There will be a universal designated hitter, intended to protect pitchers who aren’t in the midseason shape they should be. But a much more crucial question looms over this all: Is it even possible?
Korean pro baseball is back; can MLB pull off the same feat?
The Korean Baseball Organization provided the model for playing baseball under pandemic conditions. So far, it’s working well, reports ESPN, and even getting a lot of new American fans caught up in the league. ESPN regularly broadcasts these surreal, immensely fun games.
Their plan so far appears to be safe, and allows for decent games of baseball. The stadiums are, of course, mostly empty. All present crew is kept to a minimum, following social distancing protocols. Mascots serve as surrogates for the missing crowds, often seen in the stands behind home plate. Players and umpires wear masks. It works, the games are a blast to watch.
The problem is in the circumstances outside South Korea’s empty stadiums, and those in the US. While both countries detected their first cases of COVID-19 at similar times, the stateside spread of the disease is far worse. MLB owners think with the right procedures, this won’t be a problem. Players, however, are a bit more wary.
The baseball world reacts to MLB’s live game plans
MLB players are under intense discussions with their union over how to proceed. Many players want better safety guarantees. Others are concerned that the revenue sharing deal is too favorable for owners and not enough for the players risking their health on the field as the Boston Globe reports.
It’s a reasonable concern to have, given how slow owners were to guarantee compensation for ballpark workers and other non-player support staff. The business of baseball is continuing, reports ESPN, with even trades starting to rev up in preparation for returning to live play.
Now, it’s up to owners and the players to strike up a deal to get back to work this summer. We don’t know how that deal will look by the end, but both sides agree to the format for playing the actual games. Whether the league-wide DH sticks around after this bizarre season will hopefully be the only remaining controversy to discuss when baseball returns for the 2021 season.