Diamondbacks righty Mike Leake and Nationals champions Joe Ross and Ryan Zimmerman became the first players to publicly acknowledge they are opting out of playing this season.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak revealed to reporters that a “handful” of his players will begin summer training on the COVID-19 list — a pseudo-injured list for those who have tested positive or been in contact with those who have. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said one of his 40-man roster players might also begin on the list.
The Twins are keeping two 60-something coaches deemed high risk from working games this year.
This is the new normal, when everything is so abnormal. This is baseball in North America this year — maybe all team sports. Is it worth it? That is the question that every participant, fan and, perhaps most vitally, Rob Manfred will have to weigh daily as Major League Baseball tries to navigate a season amid a pandemic.
I am conflicted. I believe MLB should try to play, yet my certainty that is the proper choice falls considerably below 100 percent.
I don’t want to be the mayor in “Jaws” telling folks that it is safe to go in the water when the shark is still out there — because the coronavirus is very much out there, and in a few important baseball states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas the cases are soaring. And I don’t want to recommend shutting down a company that not only employs thousands directly, but provides commerce for plenty of other businesses (full disclosure: including mine), when there might be a way to play the season in a relatively safe environment.
Put yourself in the commissioner’s chair. If you ran the sport and had protocols that you think will a) keep folks mainly safe and b) have excellent care for those who contract the virus (and inevitably personnel will contract the virus) would you stay shut in terms of meaningful games from October 2019 to late March 2021 at the earliest and run those damaging risks?
New information will arrive near daily. More than 2,000 players, coaches, etc. will be arriving in training camps this week and will undergo intake testing. If 5 percent or so either have the virus or have had the virus, we should brace for the number of positive results to climb above 100 (if MLB even releases the number)? What if before a single batting-practice pitch has been thrown the active number of cases is high? How should MLB proceed? Faster? Slower? Not at all?
MLB, for example, is holding off on finalizing the particulars of a 60-game schedule until it has those test results and at least the feedback from the first few days of spring training.
“We’re committed to the process of educating ourselves and each other to do the best we can to protect all involved,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen favors going forward with a restart, in part because the education process will continue. Perhaps better practices and/or therapeutics are close. This really is a day-to-day endeavor. This is a novel coronavirus, so it is still relatively new and we are still learning. Full transparency: I am going to the first day of Yankees camp on Friday and will read the situation. How safe do I feel? I suspect others involved in the game will be making the same calculation, day after day.
This is a toe in the water every day. What has the virus wrought? What have we learned about the virus? Where is the virus spiking now?
Manfred controls the season. He can stop it or cancel it or reshape it. This puts a lot of responsibility on the commissioner to read and react to the moment.
MLB is not an essential business, the kind that must be open during a health emergency. Neither are restaurants nor retail stores. But those who work in restaurants and retail do not have to move from town to town to do business, as MLB will do regionally if it can get to the regular-season start line. MLB will not be operating in a bubble as the NBA hopes or two bubbles as the NHL is plotting. Does moving around put personnel and others in those cities at too high a risk?
If we wait for no risk, will we irreparably damage or close too many businesses?
I think MLB should try this, but I understand and respect the decisions by Leake, Ross and Zimmerman, and also the Twins to proactively protect vulnerable coaches. I grow more concerned when I hear about players beginning training camp on the COVID-19 list.
I wish I had clarity on the right decision.
I have conflict.