6 Proposals to Improve MLB's Reported Plan for a Condensed Season in Arizona
Major League Baseball is looking at options.
That's the simple version of a report from ESPN's Jeff Passan, who detailed the league's hope to begin a condensed season in the Phoenix area in May. Whether it's a safe plan is the key point, and that conversation is unquestionably more important than if the idea is reasonable.
Baseball should not be in the business of limiting access to coronavirus testing for the public. Only if the testing is readily available should this plan be a legitimate thought.
Let's assume that winds up true by mid-May or early June. Consider what Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wrote: "Eventually, these restrictions are going to be lifted. When? I dunno. But almost certainly it will come in stages. So there will be an interim period, perhaps lasting months, where things are halfway back to normal. In the halfway-to-normal stage, these proposals are potentially more viable and prudent."
MLB and the players' union are working on that halfway stage, though the league stated there's no solid plan yet. Passan's reported outline includes no fans, an electronic strike zone and no mound visits from the pitching coach or catcher. Is that sensible? Where can improvements be made?
Even if for a moment, that's our focus. No plan is perfect, but a few tweaks can sharpen these discussions.
Focus on the Family
Under the reported plan, players and staff would be isolated at hotels in Arizona. They'd travel to the stadium and back to the hotel—a life that potentially separates these families for months.
"I don't know if I could look at my kids just through a screen for four or five months," Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale said, per Andy McCullough of The Athletic. "The same thing goes for my wife, not being able to be around her. That's a long time. But people have done it in harsh scenarios, I guess."
Although not all players have a significant other or kids, virtually everyone has somebody in their life they'll want to see during the season. If families cannot be together at any point, forget it. The plan must include contact with a group of loved ones—a necessity for the relational and mental health of players.
This, again, hinges on the availability of testing. MLB would need to procure thousands more kits—and not at the expense of public access. But that's the swap for putting players back on the diamond.
While baseball would provide a small part of much-needed normalcy, the sport isn't more important than family.
Don't Prioritize Doubleheaders
Did you know Arizona summers are hot?
Breaking news, I know. As much as MLB wants to have seven-inning doubleheaders, have fun convincing players to regularly put themselves in direct sunlight on 100-degree days. The risk isn't worth the reward, especially if the season is four months long anyway.
Why bother pushing for a 116-game, 130-game regular season? Money is the answer, of course, but the competitive value may suffer as players slog through a contest on a scorching field.
"Even at night, it's going to be really hot," Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said, per McCullough. "Those games will be tough. You're talking 100-degree tough. That's the part that concerns me."
MLB shouldn't get carried away on this topic. Aiming for 100 games is perfectly fine, and doubleheaders allow for extra off days.
Overall, scheduling a doubleheader once per week is reasonable if rosters are larger. Hey, speaking of that...
Expand the Rosters
I'm no scientist, but heat equals fatigue. And in a unique season, MLB should have no issues making a unique exception. Rather than limiting a roster to 26 players, allow teams to bolster the bench.
And according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB and the union have discussed expanding the roster to 50 players.
While that number may appear excessive—50 is just under an entire Triple-A and MLB roster combined—it's a decent starting point. Injuries are bound to happen too. And when they do, teams must be able to use a player who has adhered to social-distancing protocols. They can't bring up someone from the minor leagues as usual.
Perhaps MLB and the union could agree to an "active roster" akin to the NFL's, limiting the number of usable players to 30, for example. That way, not all 50 players are brought to the stadium. Maybe the non-active players could use facilities earlier in the morning too.
But if a player is injured, he can be easily replaced the next day. Or if a starter needs a complete day of rest, the depth is there.
Improve the Dugout Situation
This point is well-taken: Since the aim is reducing contact as much as possible, apply that to the dugout.
Players in the stands, though? No chance. Again, Arizona is hot! Like, hot-hot! Sitting around in a covered dugout is warm enough; a backup waiting around in a stadium seat with no shade is not logical or a sustainable idea.
But the bigger point is baseball, by nature, won't adhere to a bunch of social-distancing measures.
Force-out plays will bring together fielders and runners, as will pickoff attempts. Everyone is using the same ball—one the pitcher may have thrown after licking his fingers. Sunflower seeds are flying around and sending germs into the air. Personal encounters will happen both directly and indirectly all game.
Keep a group of players in the clubhouse, sure. Assign areas to players and coaches, yes. But if the game is considered safe to play, dugout interactions can be curtailed yet not removed.
Showcase Games at Chase Field
Picture this, my social-distancing friends: At 8 p.m. ET, it's time for baseball at Chase Field.
How refreshing would that be?
As sports fans are desperate for live games, MLB can provide a prime-time national broadcast every day. ESPN and Fox will figure it out. They'll manage to squeeze in live games around replays and hot takes from their lead personalities.
Based on a June 1 start, MLB could play approximately 120 games at the Arizona Diamondbacks' home field. The league can still focus on matchups with rivalries, big-market teams and others on the rise.
Big audiences, consistent broadcasts. That's a huge win for TV, and MLB can create a path for much-needed revenue.
Keep the Home Run Derby
No matter how safely the plan is executed, no matter how content the players are on the field, they'll need a break. Competing in 100-degree weather and without fan support will be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
Hey, MLB, don't forget the fun.
At the halfway point of the season—call it late July or early August—the league can hold the Home Run Derby. While MLB could name All-Stars, the game itself is superfluous. Players would be far more invested in hitting balls out of the park.
Especially if the financial incentive remains. Remember, New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso pocketed $1 million in 2019 for winning the event.
Fans love the Derby and players like the cash, and adhering to social-distancing protocols would be painless to follow. Make it happen.
The plan is simply in the beginning stages and will undergo several major tweaks, but the vision itself is worth discussing.