Baseball is officially back. We mostly knew that was going to be the case Monday night when the players officially rejected the owners’ final offer and Rob Manfred imposed a 60-game season, but the players still had to agree to report to camp by July 1 and agree to the health and safety protocols of a season start. There are still some details that are going to be hammered out on that last part, but the players officially agreed to things Tuesday and the season is officially set to get started on July 24. The details of the season start up were discussed in the post linked above, so I won’t report them all here.
But hey, baseball is back! That’s an exciting thing, right? Baseball is back! That’s supposed to be, like, the happiest sentence I can type right now. Baseball is back! I can’t stop typing it. After months of negotiations that went nowhere and owners making the same offer approximately once a week with the same results and public negotiations, baseball is back! Hooray! Right?
I don’t know. Personally, I expected the sentence “baseball is back!” to pack a little bit more of a punch with me than it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that there is at least a schedule in place for baseball’s return, but I can’t get too worked up about it. It doesn’t even have to do with the whole 60-game season being absurd and the fact that this season won’t be taken seriously the way a normal season would be. I don’t care about that. Baseball is back, and that’s all that matters.
Except, well, that’s not true. As much as we like to say sports is an escape from the real world, that ignores a key fact that sports take place in the real world. And, unfortunately, here in our real world we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic that is seeing COVID infection rates spiking all over the country. Baseball may be back, but the thing that stopped it in its tracks in the first place sure isn’t gone. To make matters even worse, places that are pretty damn important to baseball are smack in the middle of the recent spikes. Texas, Florida and Los Angeles are all in spiking areas, and each boast two MLB teams. Arizona is perhaps the worst state in the nation right now for COVID rates, and not only do they have a team but they are probably the most popular state for players in the offseason.
I’m excited that baseball is back, but over the last 24 hours I think I’m mostly just kind of feeling icky about the fact that the people who cover this, myself included, really aren’t focusing enough on whether or not it should be back. We are getting lost in the euphoria we’re supposed to be feeling about baseball being back — every team account including the Red Sox had their “baseball back” tweet ready to go — and not focusing on the very real logistical hurdles here and, again, whether they’re even worth it.
Players are now flying to their home parks in a week with no quarantine being planned, though there will presumably be testing upon their arrival. Even the schedule idea seems bonkers to me. Teams are traveling! I know there are regional schedules, but even so the Red Sox have to face two teams in Florida and others all up and down the coast. It’s worse as you go out west, too, where teams are more spread out. Seattle, for example, has to go all over the place for their games. In the most extreme, they have to travel to Houston, which is a further trip than if the Red Sox had to go play the Astros. And yes, players are going to be on private planes and will stay isolated, but what about media members and everyone else involved in making a game happen?
I know the common refrain from people who just really want their baseball back is that these are professional athletes and there is no risk here, but that’s garbage for a variety of reasons. One, healthy people can get very sick and even die from this too, even if it’s more rare. Two, there are players in high-risk classes for COVID. Three, there are players with families that fall in a high-risk category. To the last two points, the league is allowing those players to sit out while still getting their pay and service time. Four, coaches and media members and many others involved in making a game happen are not young professional athletes in their prime. Six, we don’t know anything about this virus yet! I mean, not literally, but mostly! We don’t have a clear grasp on immunity, and most concerning there is evidence of long-term effects being a very real issue for those who were infected. These are very, very, very real concerns and it just feels like they’re being overpowered with “baseball is back!”
Now, to be entirely clear, I’m not saying this for sure isn’t going to work. I’m not optimistic, but I’m not a pandemic expert. There are actual experts on both the owners and players side here and presumably they are taking the best interests of the people involved to heart. I would at least hope that’s the case. While there were a ton of leaks last night about different protocols, the entire handbook is rumored to be 67 pages. They’re not literally sitting on their hands here! But, honestly, the comprehensiveness is part of what makes me uneasy. There’s just so much that needs to go right and be complied with for this all to work, and it doesn’t take many people breaking the rules for things to go sideways.
The league is also reportedly staying nimble, keeping open the possibility to change things up if the need arises. The point is that we can’t just sweep this stuff under the rug because we’re excited and just take for granted that everything is handled the way it should be. The people whose job it is to hold the league and players accountable need to be doing just that and not simply celebrating the return of the game.
And look, even with everything I just wrote, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m above it all. I’m stoked about the return of baseball too and I’ll be right there with everyone else on July 24 watching Opening Day, assuming the plan gets that far. I love baseball. It’s literally my favorite thing in the world. I want it back as much as anyone, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that a pretty substantial portion of my income becomes jeopardized with a lengthy absence of the sport. I’m rooting for baseball to come back smoothly! I just don’t want the jubilation to totally overshadow the concerns.
So, as I end the near of my rant, I’ll just say that I’m certainly going to fall into the same traps I talked about above. I’m going to get into zones where I’m right back talking about the minutia, because that’s what I live for. I can’t wait to debate about who should be, like, the 53rd player on the reserve roster and whether or not Jarren Duran should be activated solely to be the runner to take second base in extra innings. It’s what I do, and I love every second of it.
But I also already feel icky for it, and I’m prepared for that feeling to come in waves. I also am dreading that at some point we’re going to have to reckon with a decision on how many people — players and non-players alike — need to get sick and potentially suffer long-term consequences before we feel too uncomfortable to continue. It’s not a fun topic to think about.
At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s some great injustice to even try and there are enough people whose livelihoods depend on this working that I see the logic behind trying. I just think the least that we, as people with platforms to talk about this stuff, can do is at least cut some of that normal baseball excitement with the very real concerns that come with the fact that hundreds of people are about to go knee deep into a pandemic just to keep us entertained.
But hey. Baseball’s back!