Coronavirus pandemic

Baseball set for July return

The stands of the Chicago White Sox home stadium will be empty when the Major League Baseball season resumes in July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The stands of the Chicago White Sox home stadium will be empty when the Major League Baseball season resumes in July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MLB teams agree on proposal to play shortened season behind closed doors

NEW YORK • Major League Baseball (MLB) team owners have approved a proposal for starting the coronavirus-delayed season in early July without spectators, according to multiple reports on Monday.

The campaign was shut down two months ago while pre-season games were under way and the proposal for an 82-game season, about half the normal length, must still be approved by the players' union, with talks set for this week.

The MLB plan becomes the first formal proposal for a major American sports league to exit the coronavirus hiatus, with the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League seasons having been halted by the deadly outbreak.

The proposal would have players report to training camps starting next month for about three weeks, either at home ballparks or training sites in Florida and Arizona, where stay-at-home rules have been eased.

The season would launch between July 1-4 and play-offs would expand from 10 to 14 teams, with two extra wildcard clubs in both the National and American Leagues.

The play-offs would end in early November, only slightly later than normal. Teams would mostly play against clubs from their own division, minimising travel and expenses. They would also face clubs from the same division in the opposite league.

Designated hitters would come to bat instead of pitchers for National League teams for the first time in history. American League clubs have had the rule in place for decades.

Teams would play at their own home ground where allowed by state and local governments. Those whose home stadiums are unavailable would play in their spring training facilities.

Due to border crossing issues with Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays might have to play in their Florida training facilities.

Playing without fans could trim 40 per cent off incomes and the owners reportedly would seek a 50-50 revenue-sharing deal similar to what the NFL and NBA have used.

That might cause an issue with players, who are looking at losing half a season of their regular salary in a shrunken campaign and could worry about owners pushing for a salary cap in the next collective bargaining agreement when the current one expires next December.

MLB team owners have never offered to share extra profits with players, so the union might very well object to having to share losses with the team owners this time.

Teams would expand rosters from 26 to 30 players with a support squad of 20 players available as replacements in case of injury or illness, including presumably positive coronavirus tests.

Health issues would also have to be solved to the players' satisfaction, as Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle pointed out.

"Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season," he tweeted.

Doolittle, who helped the Nationals beat Houston Astros 4-3 in October's World Series, wondered how many tests would be needed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Baseball requires a massive workforce besides players; Coaches, clubhouse staff, security, grounds crews, umpires, game-day stadium staff, TV & media... we need to protect everyone," he added.

"And that's before we get to hotel workers and transportation workers... They are essential workers. We wouldn't be able to play a season without them, and they deserve the same protections."

He also asked how much risk players are willing to take and if added healthcare benefits would be available for people with long-term health issues after catching the virus.

"We don't have a vaccine yet, and we don't really have any effective anti-viral treatments," Doolittle pointed out. "What happens if there is a second wave?"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline 'Baseball set for July return'. Print Edition | Subscribe