Wednesday, April 24, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: We want baseball back — with our hearts, anyway

| May 1, 2020 1:15 AM

Hate to be a spoilsport, but…

If you made me bet a year’s salary on this, I’d wager that there is no Major League Baseball season this summer.

But it won’t be for want of trying.

MLB and its member clubs account for a nice, healthy share of the $71 billion that flows through the business of sports each year in the United States.

More in our hearts than wallets, though, we’re used to baseball in the summer, and we want it back.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the voice of authority in how America deals with COVID-19, admits he’d love to see baseball return — in some form, at least.

“I think if you were willing to play without fans, and quarantined teams in their own bubbles, there would be enough buy-in,” Fauci said.

“Hey, it would come from me, too. I want to see the Washington Nationals defend their World Series championship.”

Fauci, though, is always quick to remind everyone that — short of a vaccine for the coronavirus — the key would be almost non-stop testing and tracing.

IS THAT possible in some scenario for baseball in 2020?

The question has come up again this week, because veteran baseball reporter Bob Nightengale wrote a piece for USA Today suggesting that MLB is sounding out clubs and players about a scheme to get the season started no later than July 2.

Sources I’ve reached suggest that early July is too soon but, yes, there is a plan afoot that would kick the game back into gear — although owners may not be willing to sacrifice the revenue lost in empty stadiums, and would argue for something like 25 percent occupancy with strangers seated well apart.

Via Yahoo Sports, here’s a quick summary of what this new plan might look like…

“A schedule of at least 100 games would play out beginning in late June, or ideally no later than July 2.

“The plan would eliminate the American League and National League for the 2020 season, and would end with an extended postseason format. No other details about how that format might look were shared.

“The most notable detail included is that the plan would be based around all 30 teams playing some or all of the season at their home ballpark, albeit without fans in attendance.

“Of course, the plan would need the approval of medical experts to become a serious consideration.

“Nightengale says he spoke to three anonymous executives with knowledge of talks who expressed optimism this plan could have legs.”

FOR WHAT it’s worth, I really like one critical piece of this proposal — that MLB would be divided into three divisions of 10 teams each instead of two leagues with their various splits.

If the entire structure is broken down into West, Central and East, you’d have less travel (teams would play only in their own geographical division), and you’d see the renewal of some great rivalries as a bonus.

Under the preliminary format that USA Today claims has been proposed, the Mariners would naturally be in the West — with their previous division partners Texas, Houston, Oakland and Los Angeles (Anaheim), along with San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

(The Central Division, USA Today reported, would consist of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, along with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minnesota, Atlanta and Detroit. The East Division would have the New York Yankees and Mets, as well as Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Miami.)

Unfortunately, we’d need something totally improbable for this plan to reach the starting gate.

Consider: MLB would need some protocol to test and test and test (and quarantine players, perhaps with their families), because as the Rudy Gobert case proved to the NBA, just one positive result along the way could sideline an entire team — or several, depending on when and where an infected player had competed.

A single case of COVID-19 could stop baseball completely.

That’s why I don’t think we can have a season without a vaccine — even though I’d love to see it.

Me and Anthony Fauci, and millions more.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the offseason.