Lichtenstein: Why MLB's Plan to Return Does Not Work

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Like most Americans, I yearn for team sports to return to the fields, courts and rinks. It’s been 70 days since the last time we watched two squads square off before the COVID-19 pandemic took over every stage.

I really want to root for Major League Baseball’s comprehensive plan announced on Friday that called for a resumption of team sports entertainment to our screens (since fan attendance is still off the table).

Unfortunately, it wasn’t comprehensive enough and, though it’s only a first draft, it’s hard to envision an agreed-upon scenario that would ensure the well-being of all stakeholders, not just the owners who are letting their wallets do the thinking.

There are so many hurdles for MLB to leap, from its sour relationship with its Players' Association, to the red tape that needs to be unraveled in every bureaucracy—state and local—eager to weigh in on the scheme. The plan also assumes that diagnostic testing will be readily available to the general public to avoid the PR nightmare of having to explain why MLB gets to jump the line to administer its 200,000 tests (a lowball figure, in my opinion). We aren’t there yet in all areas.  

First, though, there’s the matter of the coronavirus, which is continuing its course through the country only partially mitigated. An effective vaccine isn’t around the corner, which means there will always be some risk of infection(s) when teams gather.

The MLB plan developed incredibly detailed protocols to minimize the risk, such as discouraging showers after games, but it cannot eliminate them. There are obvious holes. For instance, how can players, coaches, umpires, etc. be certain that they won’t get infected while conducting their daily lives, since the “bubble” concept was thrown out the window in favor of games in home ballparks (where allowed)? As Tuesday’s lengthy ESPN analysis asked, who’s testing the flight attendants when teams travel? How do you monitor that famous players stay home where they can’t be besieged by autograph seekers?    

Therefore, the odds that someone involved in the games will contract the virus are more than nominal. Rampant testing (which have their own false negative error rates) won’t pick up positive results for an unknown number of days after infections. As we’ve seen previously, this virus can spread rapidly via normal respiratory channels throughout a clubhouse. And then what?

Those at MLB who are looking at how Germany’s Bundesliga is managing a return to action are certainly aware of the scheduling differences. Baseball is daily while soccer teams typically play once or twice a week. A 14-day Quarantine for the entire Dynamo-Dresden second-division Bundesliga club who had two players test positive wasn’t a dealbreaker.

MLB, which, in direct violation of CDC guidelines, only plans to quarantine those who test positive, can’t afford even a handful of days off in a dense 80-game schedule starting on July 4.   

This can’t possibly fly with the MLBPA. Due to the long history of animosity between the two sides, it is understandable why players would be skeptical of anything cwfanommissioner Rob Manfred, the owners’ mouthpiece, can come up with in the name of player safety.

The MLBPA has already gone on record stating that they will not accept anything less than what they are due. In fact, some believe they should be entitled to more for playing through such scary health risks.

Others won’t play no matter the compensation level—they include players with preexisting conditions that render them more susceptible to dire COVID-19 outcomes and those concerned with infecting people close to them at home.

And if you think Angels superstar Mike Trout is going to accept a plan that calls for him to skip going to a germ-infested hospital for the birth of his first child in August, I’ve got a coronavirus vaccine to sell you.    

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.