I’ve been involved in the baseball business for 48 years as a player, coach, scout, publicist and everything under the sun. I’ve seen numerous strikes and lockouts. But never in my life have I witnessed what’s about to happen in a couple of weeks. Blame it all on COVID-19, the deadly virus that threw the Boys of Summer a filthy curve ball.
Yes aficionados, there will be a 2020 MLB season after all, but with a lot of tweaks and uncertainties. The opening day target dates are still July 23-24, with a mini-schedule of 60 games instead of 162. To limit travel, teams will only play within their geographic divisions, but will include inter-league games. Player salaries will be prorated according to the scheduled dates All rosters will be expanded, similar to the September call-up rule, but with additional players on a “taxi squad” in case clubs have an outbreak of COVID and numerous individuals are infected at once. According to Boston Red Sox DH/outfielder J.D. Martinez, that will be a key factor in the shortened season.
“The clubs that stay the healthiest (with fewer injuries and virus victims) will be the ones that make it to the post season,” the veteran predicted.
There will no fans allowed at the stadiums of course, due to the pandemic. But the games will be televised, allowing owners to cash in on lucrative cable contracts. This revenue is paramount for all sport franchises including the NBA as it’s season resumes in a “bubble” on Disney property in Orlando. Sports bars are also hoping to recover some lost revenue by beaming games on the tube, but it’s likely that patrons will have to wear masks and social distance themselves while dining and drinking outdoors. Not the ideal situation.
All players were scheduled to report for a resumption of what has been called “summer camp” at their respective team cities on July 1st. As expected though, that deadline has been difficult to enforce, especially for Latinos who have experienced visa issues. Among that group was Houston Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez, although the absence of the young Cuban sensation was a well kept secret. In addition, many Hispanic players have reported but have tested positive for the virus. Heading that expanding list are prominent stars like Salvador Perez and Miguel Sano.
The pandemic has hit several MLB cities hard, especially those in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Largely for that reason, many well known names such as Ryan Zimmerman, Wellington Castillo, David Price, and Felix Hernandez have opted to sit out the 2020 season without receiving a paycheck. These are mainly aging players in the 30 plus category who have put family ahead of money. But as opening day approaches, that list is expected to grow and might include Mike Trout, one of the best players in the game. The Angels outfielder and his wife are expecting their first child, and he worries about the risk factor.
“There’s a lot on my mind, and I don’t feel comfortable with the baby coming,” admits Trout, baseball’s highest paid player and fan favorite. “it’s a tough situation we’re in.”
Now let’s discuss the nearly 100 page guidelines all players must sign and follow to make this adventure work. The social distancing thing must be observed in the dugout and clubhouse. No spitting will be allowed, including seed shells. I suppose everyone is expected to swallow them. Pitchers will not be permitted to touch their mouth (tongue) and then grab the ball. Instead, they will be able to keep a moist wash cloth in their back pocket. And all managers can’t get closer than three feet from an umpire when protesting a call. Any violation will result in automatic ejection and possible fine.
One appealing aspect about this unique scenario is that in a 60 game campaign, a normal marathon has become a sprint. Any team that gets hot during that period has a chance to qualify for the playoffs. Then again, many of my colleagues feel like the season will fizzle out prematurely and will not be completed due to COVID and other factors. It’s a crap shoot with no valid answers at the moment. All I can say is that it will be super strange. So crack open a beer, grab the remote and be a part of history.