Major League Baseball owners and players want to do everything possible to play this season, but there might be a reason why they won’t: tests.
If tests for the coronavirus aren’t available on a wider scale in a few weeks, it seems unlikely that there will be a season.
Players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and team staffers who come into daily contact with each other would have to be tested regularly.
If tests become readily available, there’s not an issue. But if they remain relatively scarce, how can baseball justify allowing ballplayers to be tested if those tests aren’t available to first-responders, other hospital workers and our most vulnerable citizens?
The idea of no season is an awful scenario for baseball. There haven’t been any meaningful games played since Game 7 of the World Series between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros last October 30th.
Going without baseball until next spring, which could be a gap of 17 months, would injure the game.
But it’s already lost much of the season. And, even if 80-to-100 games are played without fans, there will be little recognizable about it.
Some fans have been staying up late or getting up early this week to watch games in South Korea, which have been played without fans and with ESPN announcers in the U.S.
That’s fine to prepare for the visual sensation of watching an emotional sport in an unemotional environment.
Many also have brought up the April 2015 “no-fans” game in Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, but that was a one-off played because there was no other choice.
Baseball depends on growing new fans, a task that’s become harder and harder with competition from other sports and electronics.
For most people, going to games begins at a young age when parents, other relatives or friends’ parents take children and begin introducing them to the intricacies of the sport.
Some, particularly in Maryland, have taught young fans the game by taking them to minor league ballparks, where tickets are cheap, parking is often free, and there’s ample roam to run around if they become bored with the game.
It’s unlikely there’s going to be minor league baseball anywhere. Perhaps there is a chance — if the testing issue is resolved — of small crowds being allowed to attend games if social distancing is enforced.
It doesn’t seem appealing to teach 8- or 9-year-olds baseball while watching games on TV in empty stadiums.
Ratings for games, should they occur, are likely to be higher than they would be normally, but that’s because so many other entertainment options have vanished.
Baseball can’t return in a vacuum. If there are still restrictions on crowd size, and people can’t do everyday things like get a haircut or work out in a gym, then I don’t see how baseball returns this year.
Everyone has lost something during this awful time. It seems that most people know someone who’s been affected by the virus, and those who don’t have suffered economically or socially by being deprived of time with loved ones.
Easter has already passed with people self-quarantined. Mother’s Day is just two days away, and we’re now just two weeks away from Memorial Day weekend when crowds in the mid-Atlantic flock to Maryland and Delaware beaches.
Those special times and many others won’t be happening this year.
On a much smaller scale, baseball, which is taking an immense hit economically, suffers even with a half or two-thirds of a season.
The Orioles might suffer more because after five consecutive years of declining attendance, fans have another reason not to attend.
It’s not necessarily the rabid fan who will stop attending. It’s the family who went to four or five games a season, and now gets out of the habit of going to games even when it becomes safe to do it.
The owners and players are bound to have contentious talks about the guidelines for the season. There must be maximum flexibility on both sides.
It will be interesting to see if players who have had unexpected time at home with their families are fearful of leaving them during this uncertain time.
So far, no active major leaguer has tested positive for the coronavirus, but what will happen if a player tests positive?
The recent chatter about adopting a three-division format with 10 teams each seems to make the most sense for this season. According to some reports, it could have the AL East and NL East playing together.
The regular season could be extended into October and the postseason through November at warm-weather neutral sites.
Could that end with a World Series with two National League or American League teams playing each other?
There are so many things that must be decided if there’s to be baseball by early July. Let us hope that there are reasons for them to be decided.
First, though, is the issue of the tests.