To quote the incomparable Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly. With the Blue Jays and Phillies both shutting down their Florida facilities following a new batch of positive coronavirus tests (a number of Angels players have also contracted the illness), USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports MLB will close all of its spring training venues to perform “deep cleaning.” Players and staff will only be permitted after being cleared of COVID-19. The Rangers announced plans to suspend workouts indefinitely following outbreaks at Blue Jays and Phillies camps (their facilities are separated by six miles) and now the rest of the league has followed suit.
The continued prevalence of COVID-19, a widespread virus that has already taken the lives of over 120,00 Americans, further complicates MLB’s plans to return in 2020. It’s been a trying few weeks at the highest level of professional baseball amid layoffs, heavy financial losses and a heated labor dispute escalating tension between players and owners. The pettiness and lack of compromise exhibited by both sides has been a PR nightmare, alienating what little is left of the league’s shrinking fan base.
It looked like MLB was on the cusp of returning after ownership sweetened the pot by offering players a 60-game season at their full prorated salaries, but the union’s counteroffer of 70 games and a split of playoff revenue has once again thrown a wrench in negotiations. The MLB owners, represented by commissioner Rob Manfred, has already informed MLBPA president Tony Clark the league isn’t budging on its 60-game proposal, telling players to either take it or leave it. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports the Players Association will convene this weekend to decide whether to accept the owners’ offer of 60 games or allow Manfred to set a schedule of his choosing (per their agreement on March 26) and potentially file a grievance with the league.
With the NBA and NHL both taking drastic measures to play out the remainder of their seasons including isolating players in restrictive “bubble” environments, some are beginning to wonder the feasibility of staging sports at all in 2020. Major college football programs including Clemson, Texas and Houston have each experienced significant COVID outbreaks in the past month, sparking renewed national concern. UCLA players have shown a particular reluctance to resume workouts, fearing coach Chip Kelly doesn’t have their “best interests” in mind.
Even if baseball and other sports get the green light to return, selling the general public on the legitimacy of a 60-game mini-season would still be a challenge. Many of MLB’s wounds have been self-inflicted but no league is equipped to handle a global pandemic. Maybe there’s a solution but with baseball again on the retreat, it’s hard to see it right now.