With baseball season (and virtually everything else) on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, news that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have discussed the idea of starting the season with all 30 teams playing in Arizona created quite a stir.
MLB said it has “not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan” and there certainly would be a host of issues to work out and hurdles to clear, not the least of which is the idea of players and other team personnel living in hotels and essentially being sequestered for upward of four months.
How realistic is all this? And what do the players think about it? We sought to find out as ESPN baseball reporters Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee asked players around the league for their opinions, granting them anonymity so they could speak freely while the league’s discussions about the plan are ongoing.
What was your immediate reaction to seeing MLB’s plan to start the season with players sequestered in Arizona?
American League starting pitcher: “I want us to be part of the solution, not the problem. I miss baseball, and I want to play baseball. When I think about being isolated for four to five months without being able to see my family, I don’t think that would go through at all, personally. I think that was very much the initial thought on it, and the media has blown things up a lot because we don’t have sports and this is the idea of having sports. I feel for guys who have young children. I feel for guys whose wives are pregnant right now. What do you do? I don’t want to be putting myself in a position where you could go and infect someone or get infected, and we have coaches, staff, people around us who are older and could be truly affected by this.”
Pitcher and union rep: “Look, I’m not saying this [playing baseball] wouldn’t be a positive. I love baseball; I want to play baseball. But if it’s not safe for us to be anywhere off the field except for a hotel, then it’s probably not safe to play games. I get it; I want to play too. You can want whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that it can happen.”
Veteran AL reliever: “Honestly, my reaction would be I’m not OK with being separated from my family in the middle of a pandemic. Now if it was, ‘Hey, guys will be separated for a few weeks,’ then OK. But four months is rough.”
Veteran AL reliever: “You get into these certain scenarios just to play, and then at the end of the day, is it worth it? We have [several] coaches who are more than 70 years old. I don’t want to play if it’s putting one of them in jeopardy of their life.”
All-Star infielder: “I was worried about baseball being in a position with waning interest in the game, and this being kind of a unique opportunity to present itself as the only sport that is able to be watched. A game looking to draw attention, [they might be thinking], ‘If we can give them anything, we should.’ But are you gonna put people at risk just so you can be kings of the sports world for a couple of months?”
Would you be willing to leave your family for multiple months to get an MLB season in this year?
Pitcher and union rep: “I think we have to keep practicing social distancing and start to see the trend of people getting infected and deaths go down and see the finish line to this before we talk about anything. Young single guys that want to make money and want to play, of course they’re going to be cool with it, but it’s different. Think about a player whose wife is pregnant right now and due in August. What is he going to say? Everyone is in different situations, and that’s the hard part about it.”
Former World Series starting pitcher: “I would not. There are guys who have babies on the way. Are they not allowed to leave for the birth of their child? We have players that have kids that have certain special needs, different things they might not be able to get at home. There’s just all kinds of different things. I just don’t know how that would even be possible.”
Veteran National League starting pitcher: “No. If our families can be with us, let’s do it.”
Second-year NL player: “Not for four months. There is no way that guys who are having babies this summer are going to be OK with that. I’m married. Maybe guys who are single might feel differently, but I would definitely miss people in my life. That’s too long.”
Veteran NL starter: “I live in Arizona, so does that mean I have to leave my house for four months and live down the street at a hotel? I’m not sure I would do that.”
Veteran AL reliever: “I can’t speak for everybody, but that’s gonna be a tough one. When you say no families, we’re all in quarantine and all this, that’s pretty tough. This thing is way more serious, where everybody’s worried about their family’s health. I’m sure some guys are gonna want to play and some guys are gonna say, ‘No, I’m not leaving my family.’ That’s why I think this idea that got thrown out there or leaked — give them a week or so to vet it, and then maybe they come up with better ideas.”
All-Star infielder: “I think there’s that fine line for a lot of guys: We definitely want to play, we want to make as much as we can, we busted our asses to be in a position to make it. But how much are we willing to give up in terms of safety and doing what is right by everybody? The last thing somebody wants is to do something stupid just to push it. We’re feeling like that — like they’re pushing the envelope to get any semblance of the game as possible, even if it’s not right.”
What are your other concerns about this idea?
AL starting pitcher: “It seems very strange, very far-fetched. That’s a lot of weird different things we are not used to. The electronic strike zone is still a work in progress. We’ve seen that in the fall league and whatnot. It will say a curveball in the dirt is a strike and things like that. There are still things that need to be honed in. It just seems like a lot of stuff. I mean, I love the game, but you’re changing it too much. Everyone is trying to make money.”
Pitcher and union rep: “OK, let’s assume all of that happens, and it all works out just that way. What happens when something goes wrong? Along with that plan, is there a contingency plan? What happens if a player tests positive? What happens if somebody has a heat stroke in the middle of a game? There’s just a million different scenarios that can happen. What do you do? Don’t get me wrong, I want baseball to happen. I believe in the power of baseball as the national pastime. I really do. I believe in what baseball can do for the country. It sounds corny, but I like that and I believe in that. But at some point, it’s just not reasonable.”
Second-year NL player: “Where do I start? I mean, I hope it happens, but how is everyone going to be quarantined? What do our salaries look like? If we leave for an emergency, do we need to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back? There are so many questions, I can’t even think of them all.”
Veteran AL reliever: “My biggest question — what’s the number? We play 162 games, play more and longer than anybody else. We’ve got owners — they own baseball teams, but they also own companies, and there aren’t any companies that are doing well. You start talking about that stuff — I don’t know what the break-even point is. … Not everybody has a big TV contract. And so you talk about no fans? No gate? And if you do open it up to fans, how many people are gonna want to sit in a 40,000-seat stadium in the midst of all this? And so you expect these owners to write us checks? Just to play?”
As of today, how likely do you think this will happen?
Pitcher and union rep: “I would say that, in any negotiation, your first proposal is gonna be the most stiff. I don’t think this is in any way what a season would look like in Arizona. … So much would go into it. It’s so hard to say now. You can plan this all out, and in two weeks it can all change. You just don’t really know what it’s like.”
Veteran AL reliever: “I doubt it will happen. There is too much to iron out.”
Veteran AL reliever: “The No. 1 thing through all of this is safety. Me, personally, I think there will be a new idea come next Monday. I think any idea at this point is not looked at as a crazy idea because of how crazy things are. I know [what has been put out there] is a long ways away from a logistical standpoint, in terms of players and families and ownership and everyone else involved. I just looked at it as, ‘Hey, it’s an idea to try to get us playing earlier. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll move on to the next one. Just get sports on TV and provide entertainment value for the world.'”
All-Star infielder: “I think it’s an absurd proposal. If that’s literally what it’s going to take to start the season, then I don’t see how it’s happening.”
What do you think the best plan for the 2020 season is?
Pitcher and union rep: “I’m OK with potentially pushing the limits of playing with no fans and playing in Arizona. I think those are things we can talk about. But I definitely think everybody’s health and safety should be No. 1. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a virologist. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I know. And none of us can really predict what it’s gonna look like. Personally, I just think it’s too early. I know all this stuff is preliminary. I know it makes a lot of sense for the league to come forward and say we’re really trying. You get fans all jacked up, get all this momentum. That’s great. I’m excited for that too. But that doesn’t make it a realistic option right now. I would at least hope that if we do have a plan, once it’s implemented, we don’t have to backtrack. I think that’s a big thing for guys. You can put out this plan and put out dates, but if you’re gonna do that, it has to be a solid plan. It can’t be this thing where you’re flying by the seat of your pants every turn.”
Veteran AL reliever: “This is more than baseball — it’s people dying. We talk about sports coming back as a hope, to give people hope. Yeah, it’d be great if we get on TV. But I’m really struggling seeing it, personally. I hope we can play and provide some entertainment and get people away from complete boredom. That’s what sports is for. I think that’d be great. I just don’t know if I can see it feasibly happening.”
How much time do you think you’d need to get in regular-season shape?
AL starting pitcher: “Guys are trying to throw bullpens if they can. Some guys are throwing into a net or throwing into a fence. To ramp up that quickly, there is going to be a lot of arm injuries. You need the games to build up — one inning, two innings, three innings, four innings. I think it’s crucial, especially as a starting pitcher, to have that buildup in game scenarios where you actually feel the adrenaline, you’re in a game situation; because no matter how much you try to simulate it in a bullpen, it’s not the same. If we were to have Opening Day on May 15, I would want to be building back up in game scenarios by next week. That’s not going to happen.”
Pitcher and union rep: “There’s so many different factors. If we’re able to have a regular spring training where we’re at the field every day, throwing bullpens, live BPs, sim games, scrimmages, whatever, I can see two to three weeks being reasonable. I read that we might be playing seven-inning doubleheaders. If you’re doing that, starters would only have to be built up to four or five innings for a little while; it wouldn’t be like you’re ready to go six or seven every night. I don’t think it would be drastically like a start-over. But player health and safety should be at the forefront of everybody’s mind.”
Veteran starting pitcher: “Two weeks. That’s for pitchers and hitters. Hopefully guys are still throwing. I know I am. We just want to play. Getting ready won’t be a problem. And from what I hear, there will be larger rosters — so if starters go short, it’s no big deal. Getting ready is the least of our problems.”