NEW YORK (AFP) – Major League Baseball (MLB) team owners have approved a proposal for starting the coronavirus-delayed 2020 season in early July in ballparks without spectators, according to multiple reports on Monday (May 11).
The campaign was shut down two months ago while pre-season games were underway and the proposal for an 82-game season, about half the normal length, must still be approved by the players’ union.
Negotiations were expected to begin on Tuesday, according to ESPN, USA Today, The Athletic and NBC Sports.
The MLB plan becomes the first formal proposal for a major American sports league to exit a coronavirus hiatus, with the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League seasons having been halted by the deadly outbreak.
The proposal would have players report to training camps starting in mid-June for about three weeks, either at home ballparks or training sites in Florida and Arizona, where stay-at-home rules have been eased.
The season would launch between July 1-4 and playoffs would expand from 10 to 14 teams, with two extra wild-card clubs in both the National and American Leagues. The playoffs would end in early November, only slightly later than normal.
Teams would mostly play against clubs from their own division, minimising travel and expenses. They would also face clubs from the same division in the opposite league.
Designated hitters would come to bat instead of pitchers for National League teams for the first time in history. AL clubs have had the rule in place for decades.
Teams would play at their own home ballparks where allowed by state and local governments. Teams whose home stadiums are unavailable would play out of their spring training facilities.
Due to border crossing issues with Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays might have to play out of their Florida training headquarters.
Playing without ticket buyers would be expected to trim 40 per cent off MLB revenues and the owners reportedly would seek a 50-50 revenue-sharing deal similar to what the NFL and NBA have used.
That might cause an issue with players, who are looking at losing half a season of their regular salary already in a shrunken campaign and could worry about owners pushing for a salary cap in the next collective bargaining agreement when the current one expires in December 2021.
MLB team owners have never offered to share extra profits with players, so the union might very well object to having to share losses with the team owners this time.
Teams would expand rosters from 26 to 30 players with a support squad of 20 players available as replacements in case of injury or illness, including presumably positive coronavirus tests.
Health issues would also have to be solved to the players’ satisfaction, as tweets from Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle noted health issues that got little mention in early details on the MLB proposal.
“Bear with me, but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season,” he tweeted.
Doolittle, who helped the Nationals beat Houston in last year’s World Series, wondered how many Covid-19 tests would be needed for the league during the pandemic.
“Baseball requires a massive workforce besides the players: coaches, clubhouse staff, security, grounds crews, umpires, game-day stadium staff, TV & media… we need to protect everyone,” he tweeted.
“And that’s before we get to hotel workers and transportation workers… They are essential workers. We wouldn’t be able to play a season without them, and they deserve the same protections.”
He also asked how much risk players are willing to assume to even play a season knowing that anyone involved with a game could be among the 20 per cent of cases with severe symptoms – and if added health-care benefits would be available for people with long-term health issues after catching the virus.
“We don’t have a vaccine yet, and we don’t really have any effective anti-viral treatments,” Doolittle asked. “What happens if there is a second wave?”
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