Just play baseball and I’ll be happy.
With the reporting of the Arizona Plan — Major League Baseball’s brilliant idea to play the 2020 season basically in isolation out of Cactus League spring training ballparks — the wheels have started to turn on how to play baseball this season.
The ideas have been off the walls. I advocated on my podcast to just play the season in Korea, and it’s been reported that MLB is actually considering playing in Japan. There’s talk of re-aligning the leagues to match the geography of spring training homes, with the Cactus League and Grapefruit League becoming permanent installations this season.
And this has many ramifications; it could change the structure of the postseason, bring about electronic strike zones and eliminate mound visits. In short, baseball — no matter how it is played this season — will look nothing like how it has looked before.
Here’s three considerations to think about when it comes to the Arizona Plan.
1) It can go wrong in a lot of ways.
There’s a lot of places where this plan can go wrong. For one, the commissioner’s office is assuming that by mid-May, tests for COVID-19 will be readily available, avoiding an NBA-like PR disaster with the appearance of pro athletes taking away tests from regular people. It also assumes that it will be possible to completely isolate 2000 to 3000 people — full rosters plus staff and workers — for four months at a time.
And then there’s the actual players, who will be forced to abandon their families and outside lives all for the sake of a game. Many will go for it, sure, but will enough support the plan to get the approval of the MLB Players’ Association? Is that even a trade-off worth making?
Plus, of course, the fact that these players would be playing games in the dead heat of the Arizona summer.
2) Some of these changes will be permanent.
If this plan does go through, some of the changes made to the structure of the game will be permanent. Groups of fans have been advocating for electronic strike zones for years, and this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. MLB was already considering changing the postseason format, and this could be their invitation to do so.
Some things obviously won’t last; the use of dugouts will prevail, despite the plan to put players in the stands with safe social distancing. But others — like decreased mound visits — are sure to stick around long after 2020.
3) This is a huge opportunity.
Regardless of the risks — and there are many — the motivation for playing as soon as possible is huge. TV ratings have been dropping steadily for 20 years, but having baseball as the only live programming would present the opportunity for sky-high viewership, and the potential to build the next generation of baseball fans.
And in this case, for the commissioner’s office, the reward outweighs the risk; the opportunity to revive a sport with a shrinking fanbase is too good to pass up.
4) Why not start now?
If Major League Baseball really believes they can do this — that they can safely isolate upwards of 3,000 people for four months, with their approval, and quickly stop the spread of the virus if a player does get infected — there’s no reason to not start now.
The players would be isolating anyways, so it doesn’t matter what point at the curve we’re on in the outside world — so long as no player is infected. Why don’t all the players head to Arizona tomorrow — or hell, even today — and start the clock on their 14-day quarantine. In 14 days, they could start spring training, and in just a few weeks be playing live baseball.
What are they waiting for?
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