It’s been about a week-and-a-half since Major League Baseball floated out its hypothetical plan to get the season rolling with a biodome-esque situation in Arizona. There was quite a bit of excitement from fans and media types about the prospective return of baseball, but many were also skeptical of the logistical issues associated with actually executing games and housing everybody who would need to be involved.
Key among the concerns was players having to accept being quarantined away from their families for such a long period of time. Both Chris Sale and Brett Anderson explicitly expressed concern with the idea of not being able to see their families for an extended period of time while an unnamed player on the New York Mets said that Arizona in the summer was a place where things die, not play baseball. Mike Trout said that he wanted to get playing again, but also expressed issues with MLB’s proposal.
But if Major League Baseball wants to get going and they get support from high-ranking government officials, where does that leave players?
I mean, it’s pretty clear that part of Donald Trump’s plan to restart the American economy and pretend that thing whole thing isn’t happening is getting sports back on television. He put together a 200-person advisory panel on getting the U.S. economy back up and rolling and it includes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the heads of the other North American pro sports leagues.
President Trump: "We have to get our sports back. I'm tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old." pic.twitter.com/FSUKLHI5U0
— The Hill (@thehill) April 14, 2020
Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key figure in the United States’ battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, appeared on Snapchat’s Good Luck America program to discuss a handful of disease-related topics, including whether or not professional sports could return to action any time soon.
When asked whether or not baseball would be able to return during the summer, Dr. Fauci suggested that there’s a possibility, so long as strict guidelines are followed.
“There’s a way of doing that. Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. … Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed a desire for MLB to return, stating that teams simply needed to just operate without fans in the crowd.
“I said why can’t we talk about a baseball season with nobody in the stands? Why can’t you play the game with the players? I think it would be good for the country. I think it would be good for people to have something to watch and do. To fight cabin fever. I think it’s something I’m going to pursue.
MLB wants to return, the United States government is going to do whatever necessary to greenlight its return, and, really, the only thing in the way, it seems, would be the players getting on board. I mean, I don’t blame them for being skeptical of the biodome idea of boarding up in hotels and playing games in billion-degree weather in Arizona like circus animals.
Further complicating this matter is the report that MLB might ask players to take a pay cut if games are played in front of empty stadiums. In the interview from Cuomo I linked above, he mentions how Jeff Wilpon of the New York Mets told him that players would have to potentially take a pay cut in order to compensate for the decline in revenue resulting in no fans buying tickets to games.
Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association already reached an agreement in March in regards to key labour-related issues, such as service time, the draft, and pay. According to Ken Rosenthal, part of that deal includes a good-faith agreement that considered MLB games without fans and at neutral sites. Rosenthal continues that another section of the agreement that the sides “will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”
In essence, there seems to exist some grey area here in which the players believe they have their salaries sorted out for the 2020 season with doomsday scenarios and all while the owners might believe that they can further slash salaries in the event that they deem it’s necessary. I smell some beef on the horizon!
Think about if the season is played Grapefruit and Cactus League, as has been suggested. Teams are going to obviously lose out on money from fans not being in the stands, but they’re also going to save money having every single game within bus distance rather than taking flights every few days. It’s an insanely complicated thing to hash out, but I can say that the players aren’t going to be keen on playing for less cash than what they’ve agreed to be paid, especially when there’s already a clear air of skepticism around the entire plan already.
You can add this to the growing list of things that’ll make MLB’s return incredibly difficult. It’s already going to be hard to find a safe place to play with COVID-19 still taking its toll on the world and it’s already going to be challenging to get the players on board with being isolated from their families for a long period of time. Adding in labour disputes to the equation is yet another obstacle.