Major League Baseball – along with other professional sports leagues – is attempting to figure out how and when to restart for 2020 amid COVID-19 and while there are certainly more pressing needs in our world at the moment, a large majority are wondering when sports will return. Even President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he was “tired of watching baseball games that are 14-years-old.”
The object of the all of these leagues is to not only return as soon as possible but how to make the product as entertaining as possible, with the thought being all games will be minus fans in attendance, thanks to the lingering fears of the coronavirus. If any league has the opportunity to take advantage of the current situation by being extensively creative to the point where no one would fault them if the choices they made didn’t succeed, I believe it’s the MLB.
The league has struggled to find not only its next superstar but arguably its entertainment value over the last decade or so. It’s slow-pacing and old-adage thinking holds the league back in a lot of ways, especially with youth. Now, however, is a time where they have little to no choice but to submit to the hands they’re being dealt if they hope to have any season at all in 2020. Now is the time to try something new and forget the old.
One of the proposed plans is for the league to hold all games in Arizona and possibly even Florida, therefore utilizing each team’s spring facilities. However, the league has said it will not petition the Florida government to declare itself an “essential business” like the WWE did on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey seems more open-minded to hosting the league when the time is right.
Both states are in one of many contingency plans for the MLB but it all will rely on public health and safety before things get moving. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently weighed in on it with Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Halicke:
“The only real decision that we have made, the only real plan that we have is that baseball is not going to return until the public health situation has improved to the point that we’re comfortable, that we can play games in a manner that’s safe for our players, our employees, our fans, and in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely. So, right now, it’s largely a waiting game. During that period, as you might expect, any business will be engaged in contingency planning. We’ve thought about how we might be able to return in various scenarios, but again, the key is the improvement in the public health situation.”
The thought of this contingency plan is to sequester the league – players, coaches, team doctors etc. – in one or two central locations for a lengthy period in warm climates, with the possibility of even realigning the leagues for travel purposes. This is all presuming fans will still not be able to attend games. If plans change and it’s deemed safe for social gatherings to take place, teams would presumably resume games at their home stadiums.
One intriguing idea to make games suited better for television is having players and coaches mic’d up during games. This was proven to be an entertaining concept during last year’s All-Star game, as it allowed viewers a glimpse into what’s going on during the game, along with other player commentary. Not to mention players’ personalities. The XFL was doing something similar during games when sideline reporters would interview players or coaches after big plays. Imagine hearing what Bryce Harper would say after he hit a walk-off home run or Aroldis Chapman when he throws one of his blazing fastballs to strike out a batter to end the game.
Justin Turner, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third baseman, told SportsNet LA one potential idea would be that if a game went into extra innings, after the 10th inning the game would be decided by a home run derby. His idea proposes that each team would pick three hitters with each hitter getting five outs. The team with the most home runs at the conclusion of the derby would be the winner of the game. As fun as the All-Star weekend is for baseball fans, the most entertaining part about it is the home run derby. The long ball is fun, arguably the most entertaining part of baseball. And let’s face it, no one wants to sit through an 18-inning game.
Although we all wish everything was back to normal, it’s fun to think what-if concerning these potential scenarios and others. Don’t forget, when these plans were first coming to fruition, the thought was there would at least be a late season start and the World Series would be moved to a neutral site. But who knows if the league, or any others, will be the same after this pandemic comes to an end. And that is for the better. Would it be so terrible for a home run derby to be installed to replace lengthy sets of extra innings and what if players and coaches are mic’d up for games going forward?
There’s also some brainstorming from writers like myself and others that want a tournament style season, because March Madness fans would probably watch. Scheduling is sure to be a nightmare no matter what the situation when and if the MLB returns this season, so a tournament would not only be easier to potentially schedule but it would create some highly interesting sports television. And gamblers would have a field day with it.
This is a chance for the MLB to take major risks it wouldn’t necessarily be held accountable for, especially if they prove to falter in the end. It’s time for them to try the unusual and the different because we’re living in the unusual and different – and the league clearly wants to broaden it’s appeal.