PHOENIX — Don’t take it personal, Uber and Lyft, but major league ballplayers will be strongly discouraged from riding in your cars this summer.
Fans, you can cheer for all your favorite players from your living room couch, but please don’t try hanging outside team hotels because players will be advised not to sign autographs or pose for pictures.
High-fives will be strictly forbidden. So will spitting.
MLB, which has prepared an 80- to 100-page document addressing safety and health protocols, says it is committed to protecting its players during the pandemic. Providing they reach an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association over salaries, which is expected to take two to three weeks to consummate, baseball is expected to resume spring training in June, with opening day of the season to be held during the first week of July.
These measures are being considered not only as a way to keep players safe during an 82-game regular season, but more important, assuring their health until the last team is standing holding a World Series trophy.
There is concern throughout MLB that a second wave of the coronavirus will send the country back into lockdown in the fall just as playoffs are coming to a crescendo.
“It would be absolutely horrible to get through this season, get into the World Series, and then have two teams racked with COVID infections, cancelling everything,’’ Glenn Copeland, medical advisor for the Toronto Blue Jays and QuestCap, told USA TODAY Sports.
Officials had previously considered the possibility of extending the season into as late as December, but that idea has been scraped and now there is strong sentiment that the World Series must conclude by the first week of November.
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“The story of the virus, infectious diseases and entomology is that there is usually a second wave," Copeland said. "The numbers drop lower and lower in the summer months, it’s less contagious, and people out there get lulled into the second that social distancing isn’t necessary and other precautions aren’t being taken. And then whamo! You’re hit with that second wave.
“And the problem is that no one knows when that second wave is coming.’’
Besides squeezing in a minimum of 82 games in three months, an expanded version of the postseason – featuring 14 teams instead of 10 – could result in as many as 59 games. Not being able to see the playoffs to the end would be a major financial blow to teams.
As it is, owners estimate they will lose $125 million per club if there is no season.
If there’s a regular season with no fans in attendance – which account for about 50% of a team’s gross revenue – but no postseason without the lucrative national TV money, the team's losses would increase to around $150 million each.
The teams hardest hit would be the mid-market clubs who generate the bulk of their revenue on gate receipts instead of local TV deals, such as the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
The only way for most clubs to salvage the season economically is by having a full postseason, no matter how many regular-season games are played.
The owners say this is why they’re seeking a 50% revenue-sharing agreement with the players for this year, asking them to share the risk of COVID-19 shutting down the sport at any time.
The players will tell you they already are taking on the risk since they’re the ones being exposed to the environment.
“We really want to play,’’ St. Louis Cardinals veteran pitcher Andrew Miller said. “But we have to make sure the conditions are right.’’
MLB has to convince the union and its players they’ll be protected before economic proposals are even discussed.
And as much as MLB can promise to do everything to assure their health, it’s impossible without a vaccine to guarantee players won’t become infected.
“Do we know enough now, are we confident enough that we can keep players safe?’’ Copeland said. “The answer is unequivocally: I think so.
“I wish we could guarantee it. We cannot.’’
MLB is encouraged that games are now being played safely in South Korea, with no player testing positive for COVID-19, with no fans permitted inside the ballparks.
If it can work in South Korea, why not North America?
“We’re probably in the safest place in the world,’’ said Kia Tigers coach Mark Weidemaier. “We get body scanned when we leave the parking garage and walk into the stadium. The front officer workers wear masks. And you get tested. It’s been great."
Coleman, whose company has consulted with at least 20 teams in the MLB, NHL and NBA, says they advise that every player should be tested every day upon entering ballparks or arenas. He recommends a daily nasal swab, blood tests, taking temperatures and answering a few questions. Even if a player has so much as a sore throat, he would be quarantined for 24 hours.
MLB is not recommending daily blood tests, but temperatures will be taken each day for every person that enters the ballpark.
“Baseball is doing it absolutely the right way,’’ Coleman said. “They’re doing it smart, slow and methodical. They’re going not being pushed into doing stuff because of an urgency. There is no urgency whether we start July 4 or Aug. 15. More important than urgency is that we do this right.
“The players just want to be safe, they really want to play, and we want to make sure everything is done to protect their safety.
“I think the risk in this is small, but the reward, is quite large for everybody."