Details and actual plans are still scarce, but it appears confidence is growing that we’ll see baseball in some form or fashion in 2020.
A day after ESPN’s Jeff Passan had a piece expressing optimism there would be some kind of baseball this year, citing everyone’s (meaning the league and the players union) financial interest in doing so, Ken Rosenthal is out today with a similar report.
Like Passan’s report, though, according to Rosenthal it appears there still isn’t a solid plan on what a return to baseball would look like. That’s understandable, considering making any kind of future plan over the last two months has proved to be a fools’ errand. Plenty of bosses have tried to make plans in that time, only to have to undo them days later as things change quickly.
There’s at least a sense that things are changing less quickly these days, though, adding to the league’s optimism. As Rosenthal notes, a handful of states are letting their stay-at-home orders expire in the next month or so, which is giving the league hope that games could happen in the second half of the summer. Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order currently runs through Memorial Day weekend, but even that timeframe would (in theory) would open the possibility of some sort of games by July.
And that appears to be the timeline the league is looking at, according to Passan and Rosenthal. It’d be hard to beat the pageantry and symbolism — and we know baseball loves its symoblism — of an “Opening Day” on the 4th of July.
The current thinking seems to be starting the season around then — after giving teams a couple weeks in June to get back up to speed — and playing between 80 and 100 games, including expanded rosters and more doubleheaders, with the playoffs (possibly in a unique form we haven’t seen before) extending into late November thanks to neutral site or domed stadium games.
Even that proposal remains a vague idea at this point, though, and is dependent on a few key factors: one, testing needs to be widely available enough that every team is able to consistently and constantly test not only its players, but its staff and employees; two, there need to be enough locations to actually host that many games; and three, the league needs to get comfortable with the idea of playing games without fans.
As Rosenthal notes, officials like Randy Levine of the Yankees — who would figure to have a big voice in these talks — still don’t want to do that, considering how much money teams make in game-day sales, whether it’s in $6 beers or $30 parking spots. There is an idea floating around that might allow fans in the building late in the year, but even then, it’s far from what we’d be used to:
One club official acknowledged that fans in such a scenario might need to wear masks and gloves and undergo temperature checks as they entered ballparks — checks that might not be reliable. Parks could open to far less than capacity initially — say, 15,000 fans who are seated far enough apart to fulfill social distancing guidelines — and gradually increase the crowd size over time.
The bottom line here is that even the most optimistic plans outlined here depend on the national landscape looking drastically different than it does now. It is not a political statement to say that means expanded testing — to the point where the league can justify testing all of its players and employees without getting the PR blowback of hogging tests that the public doesn’t currently have — and a significant decrease in the percentage of positive results from those tests. At this point, it’s hard to project what those numbers will look like in June or July.
In the meantime, it appears the stage is being set for fans to potentially be refunded for tickets they may have already bought for the 2020 season. The LA Times were one of the outlets to report today that the league is telling team officals that they no longer need to tell fans to hang onto tickets in hopes of using or redeeming them at a later date.
Basically, that’s a step toward the league admitting the games we’ve missed so far should be considered “canceled” instead of “postponed” — clearing the way for full refunds. The cynics in the room would say the league is only taking this step because they’re currently being sued over their refusal to refund tickets, but some good news for fans is still better than nothing at this point.
As for whether fans will eventually be allowed to watch games in person this year, all we can do is something we’ve been doing for awhile now — wait.