Major League Baseball will be returning to action, with summer spring second training beginning Wednesday and bona fide American baseball games starting in just over three weeks.
Or so they say.
As much as I want to believe it, I have my doubts.
The same goes for the upcoming NHL playoffs and the NBA seeding extravaganza/playoffs also scheduled to begin in late July. Unlike baseball, they both are trying to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus by hosting games in centralized locations. That sounds good in theory, and I'm sure it will minimize the risks posed to players, coaches, etc., but I'm not certain even that's going to fly when the time comes.
Why? Well, let me ask you a question:
If you were a multimillionaire basketball player in fantastic shape and the prime of your life, would you pack up and leave your family and palatial estate in the midst of a pandemic and head to a state (Florida) that has had over 61,000 new confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks alone and voluntarily interact with hundreds of people you wouldn't otherwise have to?
I don't know about you, but I don't think I would.
And that's in a league that is going above and beyond to sequester the players from contagion as much as possible for a couple months.
Major League Baseball is talking about teams traveling city to city – including to hot-spot states such as Florida and Texas – with fans in the stands and a four-month schedule including the preseason, playoffs and World Series.
Does that, with what we're learning about the spread of COVID-19, seem likely to you? And even if it does prove doable for summer spring second training and even the start of the reduced-game regular season in late July, does it seem likely that tightrope is going to be one MLB is going to be able to walk all the way through the end of October?
While the league and players seem cautiously optimistic, you have to wonder how long they can keep up that brave face when players, coaches, staff, TV crews, etc. begin being taken off the field by positive coronavirus test results.
MLB is not denying that can and probably will happen. In fact, they're planning for it.
Baseball reporter Bruce Levine reported Monday afternoon MLB intends to add a separate COVID-19 designation for players, one that would act much like the traditional 10-day and 45-day Injured List designations already in place. Excuse the double negative, but this is not a move done by an organization that doesn't expect more than a few isolated cases here and there.
But what will ... what can MLB do when those cases come in bunches and begin to expand exponentially, as our half year's experience learning about COVID-19 tells us they are likely to do?
Longtime fans of the game – while obviously excited to see baseball again – are already nervous about the aberrations this shortened season could allow. Small sample sizes can lead to abnormal results in a sport meant to be played over the course of seven months, not two or three.
If the season is played, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a hitter bat over .400 for the first time since Ted Williams did it in 1941; a pitcher break the 140-year-old record for lowest earned-run average (Tim Keefe's 0.86 in 1880); a team or teams challenge for the modern era's best (.763 by the 1906 Chicago Cubs) and/or worst (.235 by the 1916 Philadelphia A's) winning percentages. All it would take is a really hot – or in the case of the A's record, cold – stretch.
Those concerns pale in comparison to how things could be skewed if a team's entire bullpen tests positive in a one-week period. Or, say, five catchers in the same organization all contract the novel coronavirus running through behind-the-plate drills. Or an entire coaching staff.
And those are just the baseball concerns – not the more important, you know, actual health ones.
I think a 2020 Major League Baseball season could work but is a long shot. I can't tell you how much I hope I'm wrong and it happens just as planned, with players reporting this week and some team – hopefully my Cubs – holding up the Commissioner's Trophy at the end of October.
But from right here and right now, it's not looking good.
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