MLB Set To Play Ball In July, But Has Too Much Damage Been Done?
MLB and the MLBPA are in agreement over health and safety protocols for a resumption of play, "opening the door for a most unique season that they hope to begin in July," according to Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's implementation of a 60-game season "brought a conclusion to what likely will be viewed as a distasteful chapter in baseball history." Yet despite the "often rancorous back-and-forth between the sides, there will be baseball this season -- provided both sides deem it safe as COVID-19 cases spike anew from coast to coast." A truncated Spring Training is "scheduled to begin July 1, largely at teams' home stadiums after MLB ordered spring-training facilities closed Friday after a COVID-19 outbreak" at the Phillies' camp in Florida and a "suspected positive case" in the Blue Jays' camp. Sometime in July, teams "will likely play a handful of exhibition games." Then, provided there are "no further significant setbacks to player health and public safety, a date that at many junctures seemed unlikely: Opening Day, on July 23 or 24" (USA TODAY. 6/24).
DETAILS EMERGE: THE ATHLETIC's Jayson Stark noted teams "will play all 60 games only against their own division and the corresponding interleague division." Three months ago, there was "talk about playing doubleheaders as regularly as once a week." But with health and safety protocols "dictating teams spend as little time at the park as possible, the tentative schedule will include no scheduled doubleheaders." In regard to rule changes, all teams "will use a designated hitter" for at least the '20 season and postseason. Additionally, in an "experiment fueled by health-and-safety concerns, all extra innings will now begin with a runner on second base until one team wins" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/23). ESPN.com's Jeff Passan wrote this season's success "probably depends on MLB's ability to contain coronavirus spread, an issue the health and safety protocol covers in immense detail." Players "will be tested every other day, even if they are asymptomatic." The behaviors "outlined in the protocol -- everything from pitchers using a wet rag to moisten their fingers in lieu of licking them to staff members wearing masks in the dugout -- will change the look and feel of the sport" (ESPN.com, 6/23).
CHANCE FOR EXCITEMENT: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes there will be a "sense of urgency" during the regular season that "normally is seen only in postseason games." These games are "going to count 2.7 times as much as games in a 162-game season." Managers are "going to manage completely differently." Days off "will be almost non-existent." A 10-game winning streak "will feel like an automatic playoff berth," while a "week-long slump will be calamitous." In some ways, this season "may be more exhilarating than any other" (USA TODAY, 6/24). CNBC’s Mike Santoli said this year is going to be “this experimental season. Nobody’s going to really treat it as a regular year” (“Closing Bell,” CNBC, 6/23).
NEVER BEEN FURTHER APART: ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote he does not understand why it took so long for MLB and the MLBPA "to get to this moment when they agreed on just about nothing." Olney: "Why did the stewards of the game recklessly drag it over the past six weeks? Why is the relationship between the union and MLB so toxic and unproductive? Why was there such tone-deafness to the national and international context?" The two sides "need to find a way to build and grow their sport together." What fans "have now is the most minimal armistice." They are "not close to long-term solutions" (ESPN.com, 6/23). In Providence, Bill Koch writes MLB's "already besieged brand incurred even more unnecessary damage." It "makes you wonder how both sides could be so clueless" and "so careless." This "meaningless exchange of intractable viewpoints was as fruitful as it was tacky." Neither side "could be declared a winner in these negotiations" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 6/24). In Michigan, Evan Woodberry wrote the questions now are "the same that existed in 1995: Why did both sides go through so much effort, engage in so much public sniping, do so much damage to the game, just to arrive at this point?" (MLIVE.com, 6/23).
MISSED THEIR CHANCE: In Ft. Worth, Jeff Wilson writes the 30 team owners and the hundreds of players "have left baseball bloodied, bruised and scarred." These are "wounds that won't quickly heal." Their "public spat over how to cut up billions of dollars ... cost them fans." Baseball's infighting "blew up the chance for the league to have nearly a month as the only show in town." It "could have helped divert the country's attention away from a pandemic and helped re-establish baseball as America's Pastime" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 6/24). In Boston, Peter Abraham writes it "should be good news that a 60-game baseball season will start on July 23 or 24." Abraham: "At long last, play ball. But it doesn't feel that way." In the end, the owners and players "came away losers after weeks of bickering." At a time when baseball "needed consensus in the face of a pandemic, record unemployment, and a national reckoning on racism, Manfred could not deliver" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/24).