MLB: Are baseball and fans ready for profound changes?, and the “new normal”

William Parlee
New York Yankees
May 19, 2018; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of Kauffman Stadium during a game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

For MLB, the New York Yankees and the entire world, everything has been turned on its head.  The COVID-19 coronavirus has created a whole new world where a return to normal may never happen.  We may have to get used to a “new normal,” at least until a vaccine for the dread disease becomes universally available.

Back during March MLB scraped the remainder of spring training in both Florida and Arizona and announced that the start of the regular season would initially be postponed for two weeks.  We are now 40 days from that original announcement, and we are no further in determining when or even if the season will start.

MLB has floated several ideas that many call plans, but the actuality is that there is no plan, only possibilities.   With each day that passes, it appears the suggestion of having all games for all 30 MLB teams isolated to the Pheonix area of Arizona is gaining momentum.  Many Yankee and other players have suggested that it is less than ideal, but are open to the plan just to be able to play. Right now, there are more questions than answers.

  • When will a baseball season start?
  • Where will games be played?
  • Will MLB allow fans in the stands?
  • How long will a baseball season be?
  • Will baseball continue into late fall?
  • Will postseason games be played in Arizona too?
  • Will baseball players be isolated in hotels and in the stands?
  • Will media be allowed anywhere near the players?
  • How long will players be away from their families?
  • Will teams play against their traditional foes?
  • Will interleague play continue?
  • Will there be an All-Star game played?
  • When will the major league draft take place?

Right now we don’t know if divisions will be re-aligned and be played in regions regardless of traditional leagues. We don’t know if games will be played in one area such as the Arizona plan, or will they be split between Arizona and Florida and be played against those normal spring training teams.

There is also the situation caused by the virus and where it is hot at the time baseball may start.  Once MLB decides when to start and where to start, the complex problem of how to complete the season has to be worked out.  How many games and what the schedule will look like, will then have to be determined.  If games are to be played against traditional foes, does the season start where it would have been on that date?  Or is a new schedule in the works.

If the Arizona plan is adopted how will MLB get in all the games for the 30 baseball clubs in just a dozen or so stadiums? One thing is for sure the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks will be utilized to the utmost.  The domed Chase Field will see constant doubleheaders and possibly tripleheaders under that dome as environmental factors will have to be considered at the other 10 minor league, and some college parks.  Baseball is played in the winter in those parks and not under the scorching sun during the summer when temperatures can reach 120 degrees, and monsoon rains can happen.

If an Arizona/Florida plan is adopted it would ease the scheduling problem somewhat.  One problem with having baseball in Florida is that the stadiums are at least twice as far apart in some cases as they are in Arizona, which would mean more time the players would be exposed to each other in tightly packed buses.  It is safely assumed at this point that there will be no fans in the stands, at least to start, if not for the whole season.

The writer’s gut feeling is that if games are played against traditional divisions, all interleague play will be deleted to get in as many games as possible.  The All-Star game and break will be eliminated as well.  The major league draft will be moved to sometime in July, and the trade deadline will be altered as well. There will be many more doubleheaders than before and they may be played with fewer innings in those instances.

Something else that MLB has apparently not considered is that if it is safe in August or September would teams return to their home parks around the country?  Would a World Series be played with all games in Chase Field or would they be shared for instance with Marlins Park in Miami? One thing that is for sure is that it will be some time before you see fans in the stands hugging each other when a homer is hit or a strikeout is made.

MLB, CDC and local health officials will work together to make the season no matter what it looks like, as safe for the public, players and stadium workers as possible.

With the coronavirus seemingly lessening in some areas and as the attempt to get folks back to work gains momentum, MLB will have to start to make concrete decisions sooner than later.  For sure, there will be a new normal that we can’t quite envision at the moment, but it could cause profound differences in the game we love.