There’s a decent chance the final score will be COVID-19, Baseball 0
The more you look at the challenges teams face, the more you wonder how in the world they’ll make it through an entire season.
If the baseball season sat on an examining table, gulped and asked the doctor for its odds of survival, what would he say? Seventy-five percent? Fifty?
Or would he shake his head grimly and mumble something about a summer of golf being a nice option?
It’s not good when ‘‘wing’’ and ‘‘prayer’’ are the two words that come to mind when pondering Major League Baseball’s chances of playing its 60-game season. But there are still too many unknowns with COVID-19, and no amount of best practices, due diligence and rosary beads is going to change that.
I don’t want to kill your buzz. Like you, I want something to watch other than my fingernails. Baseball games, a full season of them, would be a beautiful distraction from the pandemic. And I certainly don’t mean to pick on baseball. The same doubts nipping at MLB’s heels are dogging the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and college football. I’ve wondered in print how sweating, bleeding, frothing football players are going to stay virus-free. Hint: They’re not.
But big-league teams have opened their camps in anticipation of the season beginning this month. They’re front and center right now. We eagerly await players’ athletic excellence. We even eagerly await their periodic ineptitude.
But the more you look at them, the more you think, ‘‘How?’’ How in the world are teams going to make it through an entire season? If the last 3½ months have taught us anything, it’s that COVID-19 is the only boss here.
‘‘The reality is that we’re going to be lucky if we play 60 games now, given the course of the virus,’’ MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told USA Today on Thursday.
You could hear caution in Cubs president Theo Epstein’s recent comments about the season and the coronavirus.
‘‘The pandemic is in control of the whole world right now,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘This is merely an exercise to see if we can put on a baseball season safely, and so it deserves all of our best efforts. Full attention is the responsibility that we take very seriously.
‘‘And we know that if it turns out that we can’t put on a baseball season safely, then we won’t proceed. But for now, we move forward.”
The important words there are ‘‘for now.’’ Everything is fluid. For now, the Cubs and the White Sox are trying to put players, players’ families, staff and fans in the safest environment possible. The problem is that the safest environment possible is the one in which people stay six feet away from one another. You can’t even play flag football like that.
For now, well, we’ll see.
How many positive tests would it take for a team to shut down for the summer? How many players, seeing teammates testing positive, simply will walk away, not wanting to risk their health or their family’s health? What if a manager or coach gets seriously ill? At every turn, it seems COVID-19 wins.
A term that gets thrown around a lot these days is ‘‘out of an abundance of caution.’’ It’s used when some sort of drastic action is being taken, like the Phillies’ decision to shut down their spring-training facility last month after five players tested positive for the virus. Today, an abundance of caution would mean not even starting the season. But that’s probably not going to happen, not with the gobs of money involved. Would doing so have been the right thing? I don’t know. Not knowing seems to be the underpinning for everything about the virus. We just don’t know. We don’t know if MLB is going to be sorry in a month or two.
What we do know, very generally, is that when young men get together, rules sometimes get ignored. Boys really will be boys, sources say. No amount of testing for the virus can change that. What happens when players leave the ballpark after a game? Answer: Good luck with that, MLB!
Health protocols have changed throughout the pandemic, so it follows that nothing is certain as MLB feels its way through this season and this crisis. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has ordered that anyone visiting Chicago from virus hot spots should quarantine for two weeks. It’s another reminder that the pandemic has no quit in it and that the rules of engagement are written in pencil.
It means that the baseball season can be erased quickly. I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope everyone stays healthy. If that isn’t possible, I hope everyone stays smart. My optimism isn’t raging.