States around the country have begun (or have announced plans) to reopen. While professional baseball lost the beginning of its 2020 season, the league hopes to return as soon as July 4 for a shortened version. Ownership of all 30 teams endorsed this plan on May 11, but they do not have the final say in this matter.
MLB has lobbied governors around the country, pushing for baseball to be the first of the big four American professional sports to return amid the ongoing pandemic. But governors, health officials and MLB employees (particularly players) are still not so sure.
Pro ball starting up on the Fourth of July would undoubtedly bring a lot of smiles to sports fans desperate for a return of professional sports. The target date would provide a symbol of hope (What’s not to love about baseball on the Fourth of July?), and it is the traditional mid-point to the regular season.
Much to be worked out
The initial details of the owners’ proposal include:
- An 80-game regular season with teams focusing on combined divisions (for example, the 10 AL and NL Central teams would play each other).
- The games would be televised with no fans in the home stadiums.
- Training camp would resume in mid-June.
- There would be an extended playoff format to include 14 teams.
- The National League would temporarily adopt the designated hitter.
- The league would have the flexibility to move games from regular stadiums to neutral sites or spring training facilities if necessary.
- There would be coronavirus testing for players, staff and media in attendance with protocols in place for those who test positive
Many players have misgivings
Like employees in other lines of work, there is resistance to some or all of these plans. The main concern voiced is the safety of the players, coaching, training and stadium staff. Moreover, the players did not sound thrilled about either potentially exposing their family to the virus or remaining quarantined away from the family so they could play.
Money also at issue
Pro ballplayers collectively earned about $4.7 billion in salary and benefits in 2019, with the league netting $10.7 billion in television revenue, stadium revenue and sponsorships. Initial negotiation in March placed the 2020 salary of 1/162 of the ballplayers’ regular wage for each game played.
More unclear is the financial feasibility of playing games without the money generated by stadium revenue. The player’s union states that pay is per game, but the owners claim that there will be huge losses if there is no revenue from ticket sales, food sales, souvenir sales, and parking. The owners want to limit salaries to match half of the revenue. If they cannot turn a profit, the owners may cancel the season.
A delicate dance
This will be a difficult negotiation involving a variety of different parties. It starts with governors opening businesses and allowing certain sized groups to congregate. But then the owners and employees will need to hammer out a format. Safety should be a priority, but no one wants to be accused of being greedy or canceling the season.