Major League Baseball has a plan for how to return to play, and it started coming to light on Saturday as Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic and Jeff Passan of ESPN reported on a 67-page draft document outlining the health-and-safety protocols being considered.
There’s a lot to digest about ideas for how players and staff would have to behave both on and off the field, from a ban on sunflower seeds, to discouraging postgame showers at the stadiums, to confining travelers to their hotels.
There’s a lot of stuff there, and there’s a lot more stuff to come as the plan gets hashed out further, but two things jump out immediately.
One is in the third paragraph of Passan’s report: “Even with the manual’s specificity, multiple officials who have seen it expressed to ESPN skepticism about the ability to implement it, especially in a short time frame.”
That’s clear on many levels, including the idea that everyone will abide by the strict protocols. In a world where NFL players are hitting up AirBnBs for orgies and English soccer players are partying with escorts, do we really believe that all 780 players on major league rosters (assuming generously that we’re only talking about 26 per team and rosters aren’t expanded to maintain taxi squads in case of injury) are going to stay holed up alone in their hotel rooms? Risking it all to get some wouldn’t be a phenomenon limited to athletes either.
Even beyond quarantine-breaking, there’s the issue of staying clear of the virus when the CDC makes clear that a person can have coronavirus and not test positive.
“Using the CDC-developed viral test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample,” the CDC’s website says. “In the early stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected.”
That’s on top of an FDA warning that the Abbott rapid COVID-19 test, used by the White House, may give false negatives as results.
Knowing that, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which someone in baseball contracts coronavirus, and even with testing protocols in place, the game experiences a COVID-19 outbreak anyway.
Beyond that, there’s the ethical question of Major League Baseball processing 10,000 tests a week when there aren’t enough tests to go around for people who truly need them. The league appears at least aware of that, with Passan reporting that the document says MLB “will offer free diagnostic and antibody/serology testing … for healthcare workers or other first responders in the Clubs’ home cities as a public service.”
In case anyone is wondering, a greater public service would be also eschewing all the tests that would be given to people involved in staging a non-essential entertainment product, and letting people who are actually trying to save lives have greater access to tools needed to protect themselves.
Baseball can come up with all the plans it wants to, but the simple fact remains that it is wildly irresponsible to try to have professional sports when more than a thousand people a day are dying from a highly infectious disease and the only known way to contain it is aggressive social distancing.
They’re playing baseball in Taiwan and South Korea because those countries have been effective in their handling of the crisis. Germany resumed soccer this weekend because they’ve flattened the curve and gotten widespread testing in place. The United States has failed miserably, and one of the consequences of that is that we don’t get to have sports right now, regardless of how much we wish we could.
“This is about surviving as a country,” Alex Rodriguez tweeted on Friday night. “The American pastime can again lead the way.”
Baseball can lead the way to surviving as a country, it’s true. They can do it by staying off the field and not acting like getting back to playing right now would be anything more than a cash grab for everyone involved. Until the United States gets its act together, the only baseball anyone should be watching is baseball in countries where it’s actually safe and responsible to play. That isn’t the case here, whether MLB has 67 pages of plans or 670 pages of plans.