Column: Why the MLB’s Arizona plan is too ambitious

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The MLB is working on a proposal to begin their season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all games being played in Arizona. However, this plan has already been hit some serious backlash from players and coaches.  Photo via commons.wikimedia.org.

The MLB is working on a proposal to begin their season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all games being played in Arizona. However, this plan has already been hit some serious backlash from players and coaches. Photo via commons.wikimedia.org.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the MLB and the MLBPA are working toward a plan that would allow major league baseball to be the first teams to return to action amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan, which has gained support from federal officials in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health, would have teams play games in empty stadiums around Arizona — including the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and 10 spring training facilities in the area. Teams would be housed in local hotels for four to five months, only traveling to and from games, while the game itself would be heavily altered to comply with federal guidelines and the desire to play as much baseball as possible.

Players will be delegated to sitting in the stands to remain the six feet apart, rather than in dugouts. Balls and strikes would be called by electronic umpiring systems. Seven-inning doubleheaders — and earlier start times — would allow for as many of the 162 games to be played as possible, all aimed for a May start time.

While I, like baseball fans across the country, want nothing more than to salvage the season the best we can, this plan is far too ambitious for the time being.

Before I continue, I need to make clear that this plan is not detailed and not close to being implemented at this time. It is just the frontrunner among other plans.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” MLB said in a released statement, also reported by Passan. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.”

As of the time this was written, there are nearly half a million cases of the virus in the United States as reported by the CDC (427,460 to be exact) and 14,696 deaths. Nearly 10,000 of confirmed cases have come as a result of social interaction and not travel. While some states, like Connecticut and others in the northeast, have seen the curve begin to flatten, this is not true for the nation. Vice President Mike Pence warns that Philadelphia may be the next “hot spot” for the virus as other spots of the nation prepare for spikes in confirmed cases.

It seems that the nation has yet to fully grasp the pandemic. We have seen some fantastic guidance from Dr. Anthony Fauci — who has been on-board with this plan — and New York Governor Anthony Cuomo is keeping New Yorkers educated and aware of the situation as the state continues to feel the heavy toll of the virus. This, unfortunately, is not true nationwide. 

For example, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was unaware that the virus could spread from asymptomatic carriers of the virus until just last week.

We are too far away from controlling this situation nationwide for a May start time to be feasible. Passan also reported that some MLB executives don’t see a May Opening Day being realistic, which is helpful, but when governor Ned Lamont extended school closures to May 20, a June start becomes a further possibility.

In this scenario, the players are directly put in harm’s way. Yes, the majority of professional athletes are in the least susceptible age range and have few to no underlying conditions, but they are in no way immune to the virus. Not to mention the threat to older managers and coaches — a concern MLB has also addressed in Passan’s report. 

More advanced testing methods with quicker turnaround times are on their way, hopefully by early May, and would allow baseball to not diminish the greater public’s access to necessary testing. Players would still comply with public safety guidelines of social distancing and isolations, but not all players are on board with being separated from their families for such lengthy periods of time.

“I don’t know if I could look at my kids through a screen for 4-5 months,” said Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who was set  to miss the 2020 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Others, like Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, are on board with the idea as long as they stay healthy.

“I believe these ideas wouldn’t be thrown around if it wasn’t approved or can be (approved),” Arenado told The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders. “I want to get back out there and play.”

The major changes to the game also remain. Robotic umpires calling balls and strikes at the major league level? The idea has been tested in independent league games last season and MLB spring training games this year, but never in major league games that counted.

What about the seven-inning double headers? It sounds like a great way to play as much baseball as possible, which is the end goal in all this, but it also puts extra strain and wear on the players. That’s a lot of baseball in 24 hours and doing it in consecutive days, in the Arizona heat, could see the Injured List hit record numbers (though the idea of expanding rosters to counteract this has been floated around).

Outside of the dugout adjustments to remain socially distant, there would no longer be mound visits for catchers or pitching coaches. Already limited as they are, mound visits can play crucial roles and this plan completely removes them for the equation. In a situation that needs total agreement between major league baseball and the player’s union, not everyone sees eye-to-eye.

There’s also the economic factor in all this. No fans means teams are losing huge chunks of their yearly revenue. Like other holes in this plan — like players testing positive for the virus, how many people will live with the team, etc. — things are still being ironed out in a plan that is far from being implemented.

At the end of the day, we all want baseball back. We all want our normal lives back. This plan, no matter how early in the implementation it may be, allows us to take one step closer to normalcy. But with the number of deaths still reaching new heights and peaks in expected cases still yet to be reached, it is too early for the return of major league baseball.

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Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu. He tweets @karnold98.

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