(CBS Local)- Major League Baseball, like the NBA, NHL, MLS and many other sports leagues, is still trying to figure out how to go about having their 2020 season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But what if there isn’t a season at all? Sadly, some experts believe this reality appears more and more likely by the day.
Late last week, the league announced it had come to an agreement with the MLB Player’s Association on stipulations for the return of the league. Among the stipulations included in the agreement were three main conditions.
- “There are no bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans. However, the commissioner could still consider the “use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible”;
- There are no travel restrictions throughout the United States and Canada;
- Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, with the commissioners and union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.”
However, just five days later, it seems unlikely that any of the above conditions allowing for games to be played in front of fans will come to pass anytime soon. In recent days, the speculation has turned to a return of baseball in time for Opening Day to happen on July 4th, long seen as one of the premiere days on the sport’s calendar.
In talking to Wall Street Journal national MLB writer Jared Diamond, as part of the promotion for his new book Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Homerun Revolution, even that date seems optimistic.
“If we have a July 4th Opening Day, I think that means everything actually went really well,” said Diamond. “If I’m a baseball fan, at this point, I’m preparing for there to be no season at all. And if there is any kind of season it’s a bonus. Given the way things have gone, given the changes in tone, hearing the changes in tone in the government in the last 24 hours, I think we all have to be ready for the possibility that there’s no season.”
While it may be a bleak outlook to consider, it is something that seems more likely with each passing day as the number of cases of coronavirus continue to increase nationwide and, in Canada. But, if the league is to have a season, Diamond says one thing is clear, there won’t be fans in the stands.
“One thing that is clear to me is that if there is going to be any sort of season, it will be at least for much of it, without fans in the stadium. I see absolutely no way that there will be baseball anytime soon in a normal setting with teams flying around the country and fans in the ballpark,” said Diamond. “Could we get to a place where you find some neutral sites and empty the stadiums out and do something that way? That would seem to be the best case scenario at this point.”
In that best case scenario, what kind of season would we even be looking at? Again, in the reporting late last week, the league appeared to be aiming for 140 games. That would appear to be an overestimate by a decent amount. For Diamond, he expects any season that happens to be closer to the 80-100 game range with a postseason that could kick off in the beginning of November.
“Baseball is going to have to get very creative to do it,” said Diamond. “You’re going to see doubleheaders, fewer off days, assuming all of this could happen at all, you’re going to see the postseason maybe start as late as November and the regular season go through October. There’s going to be some weirdness just to get 80-100 games in.”
With that type of schedule, the weirdness would come not just from the smaller number of games, but also in how teams look. As Diamond points out, with fewer off days, teams are likely to need more pitchers. More pitchers likely means larger rosters.
Then, you get to the on field product. In a shortened season, teams that we would normally consider “locks” for the playoffs may not be. On the flip side, teams considered on the fringes could make a postseason push. Everything would be on the table.
“If you look back to just the last few years, there are some really good teams that had bad first halfs or mediocre first halfs that might not have been in the playoffs if the season had ended at the All-Star Break,” said Diamond. “These teams we see as locks like the Dodgers or the Yankees, there’s no such thing as a lock if you’re talking about an 80 game season. If you’re a fan of the Padres, Diamondbacks or Red Sox, you’re like, ‘Well hey, maybe in an 80-game season we can catch fire at the right time and win the division. Anything is possible.'”
Diamond’s new book, Swing Kings, is available now through the publisher Harper Collins, on Amazon, and anywhere books are sold.