I think MLB’s proposal to start playing games in May is much too aggressive, for two reasons:
1. During the season players, and others at MLB games who work in close proximity to the players or to one another, should be tested frequently (I would say daily, but that may be not be necessary) for the virus. I don’t think the public would, or should, stand for MLB sucking up large numbers of tests until such time as those tests are in sufficient supply that MLB’s need for them does not make tests unavailable to health care workers, those with symptoms, and large swaths of the public.
2. I don’t think it would be appropriate to start playing baseball games while the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus remains high, and while large portions of the population are ordered or advised to stay at home.
If you take both these limitations seriously, when could the 2020 season start? I think there are two answers. The first is that it’s later than May. The second is that nobody knows. That says to me that any planning for the 2020 season should look to a summer start date – I would estimate mid-August. The second is that whatever plan is put together should be flexible, so that it can be altered without creating a new mess.
Those things tell me that a regular but abbreviated schedule of games is not likely to work. There is a minimum of games that need to played before you can say there’s been a meaningful season with division champions and wild card qualifiers. I would put that number at 75. I don’t want to see a baseball season last into November, with playoffs nearing Christmas. I would rather see a season that concludes somewhere around the normal time.
I don’t think it’s realistic to have fans at these games until there has been either virtually universal inoculation with a vaccine for the virus or something very close to herd immunity, neither of which is likely to occur in this calendar year. Without some dramatic change that would protect fans from passing the virus around, I think it would be foolish of MLB – and in the long run harmful to the game – to bring together thousands of spectators and knowingly expose them to a risk of disease and death.
I think MLB would be better off in the long run if it did something much more modest this season and focused on maximizing the chances of having a normal 2021 season. I recognize that the Commissioner and many team owners seem incapable of taking a long-range view of anything where that view will deprive them of short-term revenues (or impose short-term costs), but I can't worry about that.
Here, then, is a modest proposal for MLB in 2020. (I’ve put in some details, not because they’re important, but because they helped me think through the feasibility of the proposal.) I’ll note at the outset that I don’t like my proposal either. I would love to see a season that looks as much like those of the past as possible. I just think it’s a bad idea under the circumstances as I expect them to exist over the next few months.
On August 17, MLB teams would begin “summer training,” at their spring training locations (or elsewhere if they choose), limited to 40 roster players and 15 coaches, trainers, and other non-playing personnel. Beginning on August 28, MLB would take over four, or more, spring training sites in Arizona. All players would stay in designated hotels, with one or more designated for quarantined players. (It appears that the hot, dry, high-ultraviolet radiation environment might inhibit the spread of the virus.)
On August 31, MLB teams would begin a 32-team tournament. Teams in each league would be seeded 1 through 15, based on their winning percentage (or their run differentials) in 2019. There would AL and NL sides of the draw, so that all games would be intraleague until the championship.
Last season’s winners of the Japanese Pacific and Central League pennants, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants, would be invited to be the 16th team in each draw. If they decline, the 16th seeds would be Columbus and Sacramento, the 2019 International and Pacific Coast League champs. If that’s impractical, the top seeds would get byes in the first round, and would play each other in a round of exhibition games while the other teams are playing the initial round.
The opening round of 16 (or 15) series, second round of eight series, and league semifinals of four series would be best two-out-of-three. Each league championship series would be best three-out-of-five, and the championship would be best four-out-of-seven. The losing teams in each round also would play best two-out-of-three series, but they would not be eligible for the championship. There would be a day off after the conclusion of each series next round.
The maximum number of games played by any team would be 21, and with off-days the maximum time to determine a tournament winner would be 25 days, in the absence of rainouts, tornados, etc. MLB’s arrangements with TV networks would emphasize staggering the start times of games so that a viewer could see all or almost of the action, and that might require adding two or three days to the initial rounds. We're talking about roughly four weeks of baseball, with games played almost every day.
No fans would be permitted. Each team would designate 25 players, plus up to 15 non-playing personnel, to be present for the game. I am guessing it takes another 25 persons (umpires, batkids, ballkids, security, etc.) to play each game, plus another 25 to broadcast it on TV and radio. That’s 130 persons in the stadium for each game. On the day of each game, those 130 would be tested. A player who tests positive would be barred from playing on that day and quarantined for 14 days, or whatever the appropriate time is deemed to be, after which he would be permitted to return. His place could be taken by anyone who was on the 40-man summer training roster.
Something like that would give us an interesting month of baseball in a way that would not make MLB look like greedy pigs (even if that’s what many of them are) who want to salvage as much revenue in 2020 as they can without regard for the health of the players and the public.
Were I running the show, I'd test all players for coronavirus upon reporting to Arizona and at semi-regular intervals. If they test positive, they go on the IL and can't be activated until they test negative. Obviously that's not a complete policy, but it's the jist of what I think they should do if they decide to go forward with this
ALL of this post! Especially the bolded part. It would be better than nothing. It would be baseball for fans to watch and for players to play. It would be weird but these are unprecedentedly weird times.