Shortened MLB season to begin this month

Posted 6/30/20

After a long and arduous debate process between Major League Baseball officials and players that left diehard baseball fans reeling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides have finally reached an agreement to begin an abbreviated, 60-game regular season in late July, which will be followed by the traditional postseason format in October. Personnel began reporting to a makeshift “spring training” period to prepare for the season at the beginning of the month.

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Shortened MLB season to begin this month

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After a long and arduous debate process between Major League Baseball officials and players that left diehard baseball fans reeling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides have finally reached an agreement to begin an abbreviated, 60-game regular season in late July, which will be followed by the traditional postseason format in October. Personnel began reporting to a makeshift “spring training” period to prepare for the season at the beginning of the month.

Theoretically, it should be easier for baseball to operate during the pandemic than other sports due to its nature. Fielders are spaced out on the field and there are hardly any instances in which it is necessary for one player to make contact with another. Granted, these instances certainly occur routinely (such as tagging a runner on the base paths, close plays at the plate, etc.), but they are not nearly as prevalent as they are in, say, football.

But there are still a number of uncertainties surrounding the logistics of the shortened 2020 season that have little or nothing to do with the actual play on the field. Firstly, there is the obvious issue of MLB players who may test positive for the virus before camp. Many of the players live in states such as Texas, Florida and California, where the virus has seen recent spikes. These numbers could start to come to fruition this week as players begin to report for duty.

Those who may test positive will be forced to isolate until the following stipulations are fulfilled: two negative COVID-19 tests are received at least 24 hours apart; 72 hours have passed without a fever or respiratory symptoms (judged by a doctor or the individual team’s medical staff); and a joint committee consisting of a team physician, two doctors and one representative from the MLB and the MLB Players’ Association (MLBPA) agree the individual does not pose a risk of spreading infection.

What is to become of the plan if, say, a number of high-profile players test positive for the virus either at the onset or, worse, farther into the abbreviated season? Commissioner Rob Manfred reserves broad powers to curtail the season if the competitiveness is further undermined by the virus.

Another potential logistical nightmare rests in the simple fact that there are multiple cities and local governments that could dictate how a specific team may operate during the return and the ensuing months. The National Basketball Association (NBA) will resume and complete their season in one location (Orlando) while the MLB will possess the challenge of having to navigate venues in over 20 major cities throughout the U.S. (plus Toronto) that could be implementing unique and varying responses to the virus. As it stands now, the games will be played without fans in attendance.

If the powers that be in a specific state or city decide a specific team cannot perform in their jurisdiction, the organization and MLB certainly retain the right to temporarily relocate. However, it is hard to imagine a quick fix to this issue if it becomes necessary for a handful of teams to suddenly find another city to call home in 2020.

The league’s shortened schedule was created with the goal of cutting down on travel as much as possible. With this in mind, each team will compete in 10 games against each of their four division opponents, totaling 40 games. They will also compete in five games each against the opposite league’s regional counterpart, totaling the other 20. (For example: since the Houston Astros play in the American League West, they will compete against the National League West, which consists of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres).

This means that teams will not compete against any of the opponents within their own league but outside of their division during the regular season. Therefor, teams will be seeing one another for the first time when they compete in the League Wildcard games, League Divisional Series or League Championship Series.

The postseason format will remain untouched with five teams (three division winners and two wildcard qualifiers) on each side. 
It is true that the owners and players have spent the majority of the pandemic squabbling over finances, resulting in negative attention and feedback in a sport with an already declining fanbase. But the simple fact of the matter is that there was no good way to bring baseball back. It became a question of whether there would be a makeshift season, like the one currently on the horizon, or no season at all.

With all of the unanswered questions surrounding the virus and its immediate future, it is still next to impossible to judge how the 2020 season will play out. It seems there are countless hurdles in the way of an outright successful campaign.

Regardless, there will be many who will place an asterisk next to the 2020 season when it is all said and done. The winner of the World Series will be dubbed the “COVID Champion” (or some other catchy name) and forever endure arguments suggesting they are not legitimate title recipients.

While this is understandable, since the regular season is 100 games shorter than in traditional years, the average fan would still agree the situation is favorable to no season at all. With many questioning the legitimacy of certain championships due to cheating scandals in seasons that were not abbreviated, this potential historic oversight is the least of the league’s problems as they near opening day.

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