I’ve got to give Major League Baseball credit. It is willing to think outside the box and try something different. Even if its impetus was engineered by the coronavirus.
If published reports Friday were true, there’s a plan being considered that would see a restructuring of the American and National Leagues with half the teams playing out of Florida, the other half in Arizona.
There would be a 15-team Grapefruit League and a 15-team Cactus League. The divisions would look vastly different from what we’re used to, which would make for some interesting matchups.
According to USA Today, here’s what a model looked like:
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
Kansas City Royals
San Diego Padres
There are probably other models similar to the above. But one look at this model reveals the obvious. The game’s traditional rivalries do not exist. No Red Sox-Yankees. No Giants-Dodgers. No Cardinals-Cubs. But you will have regional matchups such as Dodgers-Angels, Reds-Indians and Giants-A’s which will juice things up for the fan bases of those teams.
And you’d have a really good one in the Grapefruit North — Astros-Nationals. Think there might be a bit of lingering bad blood there from last October’s World Series?
The idea is to keep the teams close to their traditional spring training headquarters to help minimize the distance from home and the lack of familiarity, which is what the plan to play only in Arizona would result in.
By playing in two warm-weather locales, MLB makes it abundantly clear it wants to play a full schedule of 162 games, or at least something as close to it as possible. The World Series could be played indoors in Miami and Phoenix, both of which have retractable roof stadiums so weather is not a concern. You could play the Series in December theoretically.
Obviously, there are all sorts of issues that need to be worked out before we hear “Play Ball!” The most critical is the safety of the participants. Would the Players Association demand daily testing prior to first pitch? Who would administer the tests and would there be enough of the quick-turnaround tests available to test athletes and managers and coaches and umpires while other parts of the nation, including Nevada, can’t find enough tests for regular citizens?
And what of those citizens, aka fans? Would MLB allow admission? And if so, would there be social distancing directives in place? And how would you know if a fan is a COVID-19 carrier? Would you take everyone’s temperature prior to their entering the ballpark?
Better yet, assuming they did have safety protocols in place, would you drive from Las Vegas to Arizona to watch a baseball game not knowing if the person near you was infected? According to a recent Seton Hall survey, 72 percent of American sports fans polled said they are not ready to attend a sporting event in person.
And what happens if a player tests positive? Do you shut everything down? Do you quarantine that player for 14 days?
That’s just one issue.
There are competitive concerns to be ironed out. Do you play with a designated hitter for all games? Do you start the season and maintain it with a 40-man roster? How do you deal with injuries? What about your farm system? If they’re not playing, how do you “call up” a player to replace someone who’s hurt?
Finally, there’s the financial side. Does MLB decide to get its television sponsors to pony up more money knowing there’s a captive audience to sell product to? Does it have the regional TV deals teams already have in place carry the day? Or does it use ESPN and MLB Network to televise all the games? And would it finally amend its ridiculous blackout rules so fans everywhere can see whichever game they want?
The players are going to be expected to be paid their negotiated salaries. The revenue is not going to be nearly enough to offset the anticipated losses, which will be in the billions. Does the federal government step in and offer the owners financial relief?
Forbes magazine Thursday revealed its annual report of the value of all 30 MLB teams. They range from the Yankees ($5 billion) at the high end to the Marlins ($980 million), the only team whose value is not worth at least $1 billion. These are not small businesses. Some are in small markets, but trust me, the business itself is not.
And if the government bails out baseball, will it do the same for the NBA, the NHL, Major League Soccer and the NCAA? The second iteration of the XFL folded Friday with no plans of returning in the future.
Perhaps this all gets worked out and maybe by Memorial Day we’re watching baseball. But we’re living our lives day by day. So all we can do is watch, wait and hope.