Until a few days ago I was on the other side. Baseball -- and basketball, football, hockey, whatever – ought to remain on the sidelines and not jump the queue. Sure, I missed the games but why should professional sports return now and receive the benefits of enhanced testing while millions of Americans can’t even get hand sanitizer?
Then I saw MLB's proposed safety plan and realized that this is how we’re all going to figure out how to return to some semblance of normalcy. And when I say “normalcy,” I’m not referring to attending baseball games. I’m referring to returning to school, work, shopping, everything. MLB is volunteering to be the guinea pigs here and we ought to stand up and applaud. Because better them than us, I think we’d all agree.
Let’s face it, we’re going to need guinea pigs. When the head of the federal government responds to a nationwide death toll approaching 90,000 by tweeting “Obamagate!” you know you’re on your own here. It’s going to be up to state and local governments, along with big businesses and universities to figure this out. And state and local governments lack the resources and financial incentives to lead. Which leaves the private sector. For the first time in my life, I’m thankful that American professional sports have become the enormous revenue behemoths they are. Because they’ve now got too much to lose here by doing nothing. They’re going to act. They’re going to experiment. They’re going to save us all.
MLB’s 67-page document, already referred to as baseball’s “2020 Operations Manual,” is subject to negotiation with and approval by the Players Association (MLBPA) and contains numerous provisions specific to baseball – replacing game balls after they've been handled by multiple players, rules relating to indoor batting cages, locker room saunas, etc. – but also many that could translate to a university or work setting. If they prove successful, they show us the way out of our homes and back into a functioning, but safe, society.
Pursuant to the Operations Manual, every player and individual at the stadium would be temperature-checked, subjected to a viral test, and have blood drawn to check for antibodies. Anybody with a temperature above 100 would be banned from entering the stadium and quarantined until cleared by a medical professional. Contact tracing would also be performed on anybody testing positive. Those passing the initial screening would still be subject to twice-daily temperature checks, regular coronavirus testing, and monthly antibody testing.
The protocols go on, covering recommendations regarding spitting, social distancing, and other things. They’re impressive in scope as well as depth. Will they work? Who knows? That’s the thing – nobody knows. And given that the federal government doesn’t seem to care, somebody has to take a chance. Somebody has to try SOMETHING. Right now that somebody is MLB. If you feel like getting up from your couch and applauding, I’m not going to tell you not to.
Of course, as I mentioned above, none of this will go into effect until approved by the MLBPA. And that’s not going to be easy. Blake Snell isn't wrong when he said that returning AND taking a pay cut might not be worth it given the risk. And Bryce Harper isn’t wrong for agreeing with him. Yes, these guys make a ton of money, and yes they still stand to make a ton of money even with the proposed pay cut. But MLB is asking them to literally risk not only their lives and health but that of their families. All for a reduced salary. Raise your hand if you’d take that deal where you work. Didn’t think so.
Anyway, MLB and the MLBPA are going to have to work this out but because they’re both terrifically incentivized to do so, they very well might. And if they do, we – the fans – reap the benefits two-fold: we get to enjoy live baseball while trapped in our living rooms while at the same time remaining safely cocooned while others assume all the risk for rewards that will run to each and every one of us.
MLB is taking the first important steps toward showing us the way back. If it works for baseball there’s a good chance the protocols outlined within its 2020 Operations Manual will dictate how universities welcome students back to campus in the fall. We all ought to be rooting for baseball here.
But fear not – it’s still okay to root against the Yankees.
Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now. You might as well buy it; you've got nothing better to do