Baseball is back in full swing and… Er, wait, that was last week’s column – let me check how things are going now. Oh! It would be unfair to describe it as total chaos but, a little over a week after baseball’s return, there are some definite issues and we are currently on the brink of a crisis.
At the start of the summer baseball pitched the idea of creating a couple of bubbles, one in Arizona and one in Florida, where all the facilities would be in place for ‘Spring’ training. But the idea was quickly tossed aside.
Then came a dispute over how many games would be played and how much the players would get paid, before the sport finally settled on teams playing at home venues, as per usual, but minus the crowds. An agreement was reached on a 60-game schedule over 67 days, while other sports in the US – the NBA, MLS and NHL – all took the bubble idea and tweaked it to suit their needs.
We had a whole weekend of baseball action before the dreaded Covid-19 reared its head and threw a wrench at the Miami Marlins, who seem to be geographically caught right in the middle of the US crisis.
Next up was the Philadelphia Phillies, before Cincinnati, St Louis and Washington all shut down team activities and postponed games. Over the past week, baseball has seen 22 games postponed while 75 have gone ahead, meaning that nearly a quarter of the arranged schedule has been cancelled.
The Miami Marlins are already ten games behind where they should be in terms of games played and, as mentioned above, there were only seven days of grace allowed in the schedule. Yes, they can play double-headers, playing a game at 2pm and then a second game later in the evening, but how many times can the players be expected to play twice per day?
Not only would that be hard on the players, but don’t forget these games are also spread across four different cities.
When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred agreed to let players stay home and play at their home venues, he must have known that this would be the end result.
Teams are due to be staying away from home for 30 days this season. The logistics of team travel are not what they used to be with overnight bus trips – now they are all forced to fly together. When they arrive at their destinations, the players will undoubtedly want to eat and socialise, all perfect conditions for coronavirus to spread.
The Marlins have now reached a point where no players have tested positive for two consecutive days and, all things going well, are due to play Baltimore later this evening.
But for the St Louis Cardinals, the problem is just getting started. Reports on Sunday suggested that there have been more positive cases within the team, who are currently locked up in a hotel in Milwaukee, casting doubt on the their ability to play their next four-game series in Detroit.
With news of these positive tests sweeping through the league, there has been a noticeable reaction from players, too. Over the weekend Mets player Yoenis Cespedes simply packed up and left for the season.
The Cuban-born outfielder didn’t even let his team know. When he didn’t show for team activities someone was sent to his room and found he’d packed his bags and left, with his agent later telling the team management he had opted out of the 2020 season.
Cespedes wasn’t alone in his late change of heart as the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain and the Marlins’ Isan Diaz both walked away sighting “rising risks”.
As the shortened season progresses and the leadership in the US continues to refuse to restrict movement, surely more players and officials will choose to opt-out, more teams will have outbreaks and more games will be missed.
Manfred will point to the idea of the bubble being theirs first. He will argue that players didn’t want to stay in a bubble, but ultimately the buck stops with him. If Major League Baseball continues on this trajectory, a complete 60-game season will be impossible, and if the season doesn’t finish then unfortunately for the commissioner, his last action may well be to announce the end of the 2020 season.
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