Throughout the first half of this year, Major League Baseball kept shooting itself in the foot. The owners and the players’ union couldn’t agree on the terms and conditions for starting the season. In the end, the season to be played is too short (60 games) to be considered truly legitimate.
When the season finally began, one team (Miami) had to shut down immediately due to an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus among its players. Next, the St. Louis Cardinals were shut down after playing just five games. They haven’t competed since July 29. Most other teams are approaching 20 games played.
In addition, it seems like an inordinate number of players are getting injured. It’s my impression that ace pitchers are missing appearances, going on the injured list, or being shut down for the season to an inordinate degree. The list includes Jason Verlander, Roberto Osuna, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer (though he recovered quickly), Corey Kluber, Mason Baumgarner, Mike Soroka, Wade Davis, Jordan Zimmermann, Shohei Ohtani, John Means (Baltimore’s best pitcher last season), Jake Odorizzi, Jeff Samardzija, Charlie Morton, Jose Leclerc, and Ken Giles. This list does not include pitchers who have missed time due to illness.
I can’t help thinking that restarting baseball without the benefit of a true preseason has contributed to what I take to be the unusual number of injured pitchers.
But let’s put all of this aside. The story that matters is that the baseball season is moving forward and has a good chance of making it to the end.
MLB is adjusting on the fly to difficulties that arise from the virus. It has persevered. (It’s also worth noting that during the broadcasts I’ve seen, which include a large cross-section of games via the MLB network, there has been zero political content expressed by players, announcers, or MLB itself. However, I don’t know what’s happening during the playing of the National Anthem.)
I’m sure it’s hopelessly old fashioned and maybe politically incorrect to talk about, never mind applaud, the “can do” spirit. But that’s what we’re seeing from MLB now.
I should add that, although a number of players have tested positive for the coronavirus since the restart of the season, none seems to have become seriously ill. Nor am I aware of anyone who has become seriously ill from contact with an infected player.
Reportedly, MLB is now talking about holding its playoffs in a “bubble,” using venues where teams isolate themselves to avoid travel until they are done competing. The NBA and the NHL have used bubbles, but doing so probably wasn’t feasible for baseball, given the large number of players involved and the length of the season.
But once baseball is down to 16 teams and short stays for most teams, bubbles seem feasible. And, come playoff time, baseball can’t risk one or more of the remaining teams having shut down for a week or more.
If warm weather venues are used, bubbles would have the added virtue of avoiding games in near freezing conditions. Baseball wasn’t meant to be played in 40 degree weather.
With the public excluded from games anyway, a bubble wouldn’t deprive home town fans of the opportunity to attend playoff games. Thus, MLB is wise to consider using this model. The joker is that no one knows what the extent of infection will be come October, and where, if anywhere, the “hot spots” will be.
The important point, again, is that MLB is thinking flexibly about how best to finish this season in the face of the pandemic. I will consider it a minor triumph of the American spirit if MLB succeeds.