May 7, 2020

MLB has chance to step up to save summer’s sports season

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

A pandemic could stir the pot and freshen the soup. Major League Baseball could return with much-needed tweaks and changes, including:

No more spitting. No more conferences at the mound. A universal designated hitter. A culture that celebrates bat flips. Ump-bots calling balls and strikes. Athletes who never before realized how much they missed us and depended on us, the fans in the stands.

But right now, at this very moment, what baseball needs most is players who love the game and are willing to prove it. Players who will sacrifice for the collective good of their sport and their country. Players who will perform for what they will deem absurdly-low wages, willing to play inside a bubble in Arizona or a few select states, if only for a short while.

Otherwise, there will be no baseball in 2020.

There are reports that MLB is inching toward the starting line. The league has apparently set target dates. Spring Training 2.0 will resume around June 10th and the regular season will commence in early July. That’s about as late as this sport can stretch the beginning of their season.

There is also a report at MLB will finally present a preferred plan to its players by mid-May. It might even happen in a matter of days. And herein lies the rub:

Attitudes and restrictions are loosening in many states, including Arizona. But that’s not true of all MLB cities, and some regions simply will not allow baseball games to be played, even if held inside empty stadiums.

So to present a formal plan in days and resume baseball activities in barely over a month sends a strong signal of what awaits the players: Many teams will have to be displaced, resigned to playing home games far away from home, to having no life outside baseball. Many players will have to leave their families. Or uproot their families and bring them along, forcing them to make the same commitment.

It’s exactly what many players don’t want.

This might be the dirty little secret swirling around sports at the moment. Most professional athletes are young and extremely wealthy. They are thinking long-term, and so are their agents. They might not die from COVID-19, but exposure could damage their lungs.

Basketball and hockey players are already in shut-down mode. Baseball players haven’t started their season yet, so there’s nothing to lose except a year’s chunk of their salary. How are you going to motivate them?

Even worse, those who work dangerous jobs are often compensated for their bold nature and the risks they assume. Baseball players will likely be asked to take a risk and an even bigger pay cut.

There is also great political pressure to return. South Korea reported its first COVID-19 case in late January, on the same day as the United States. They have baseball and we do not. Whatever the reasons and regardless of blame, it’s a really bad look, especially for the greatest nation in the world.

The return of Major League Baseball would serve the fans and the country. The Korean Baseball Organization is proving that the sport can survive with protective masks and protective measures, translating to television without fans in the stands.

With the right attitude and perspective, MLB can pull this off. But who do the players trust? How will they react to the impending proposal and the accompanying plea from millions of sports fans across the country? Will they listen to their hearts, their agents or their darkest fears?

The answer will determine if we’ll soon be witnessing the greatest Opening Day in history. Or if we’re about to embark on the worst summer ever.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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