MLB’s aborted restart shows sports owners only get the “evil genius” thing half-right

On Friday I reported how plans to restart American pro sports leagues were hitting snags in the form of rising Covid caseloads in major sports states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and since then things have gotten oh so much worse:

Now, there’s no reason you can’t hold a sports season even with a few players testing positive — it’s what soccer leagues in Europe are doing, figuring that if you keep testing and quarantining anyone who turns out to be infectious, the rest of the league can continue more or less as normal. But Europe has way, way less virus than much of the US right now: Even the United Kingdom has a daily new cases per capita figure that’s barely 5% of that in Arizona, so fewer Premier League players are likely to be getting infected when they go to a local restaurant or grocery store (“community spread,” in the epidemiology lingo), meaning there’s less risk of a surge of cases that would require an entire team to be sequestered for two weeks.

This is the whole reason MLB was considering its “bubble plan,” wherein all the teams and game officials and TV crews and hotel workers and everyone else necessary to support them would be walled off in a single location, something that it soon became clear would be entirely unworkable. The NBA is looking to do its own version of a bubble, but as that includes things like being allowed to leave the “campus” for excused absences without having to quarantine on your return, it’s clear that this is more a “let’s figure out something workable and cross our fingers” plan than something that’s actually airtight from a public health standpoint — if that wasn’t already clear from the fact that the NBA is locating its bubble in Orlando and not New Zealand.

There is also always the possibility of just rolling the dice and figuring if some players get infected, so be it — they’re relatively young and healthy, so most of them probably won’t get very sick. But that can’t be said for coaches, or game officials, or players with preexisting risk factors (have we discussed here how half of the US adult population has high blood pressure?), or family members who are going to continue to be in contact with players, whether they’re in a bubble or not? Even setting aside whether sports leagues want to be responsible for exacerbating the spread of a deadly disease in the general population, it would be very bad if they ended up telling Dusty Baker he has to decide between risking his life to show up for work and staying at home watching cowboy movies. (Not that plenty of other workers aren’t being asked to do the same thing, but that’s not great either.)

As it looks increasingly like the US is headed toward a patchwork of outbreak scenarios, with some regions seeing low caseloads while others face second waves or even first waves that never ended, it’s probably impossible to have any kind of sports that involves travel and maintain any kind of safety from infection for those involved. That leaves several unpalatable options: 1) gather all the players in one spot with low infection rates and try to play a quick season before they go stir-crazy and miss their families; 2) damn the virus and go full speed ahead, and hope you still have enough players to finish out the season after they start getting quarantined or head for the hills to avoid getting infected; 3) cancel everything and wait for a vaccine — or at least for infections to get down to a low enough boil that contact tracing can keep them under control, something that isn’t getting off to a great start what with states reopening even while caseloads are still high.

It would arguably make more sense, even just in terms of self-interest, for sports team owners to take the lead by saying, “We’re not restarting nothing until the virus is under control,” in hopes of encouraging local leaders to pursue a plan where in a couple of months we might be in a place — like Spain and Germany and even the UK are in now — where resuming sports might be a reasonable gamble instead of a desperate dice roll. But then, long-term thinking is never what sports team owners were known for; the botched restart plans are just another reminder that rich people may know how to throw their money and power around, but that doesn’t mean they’re always going to be smart about it.

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14 comments on “MLB’s aborted restart shows sports owners only get the “evil genius” thing half-right

  1. Didn’t MLB say they were only going to re-start if it was ok. I thought I read that somewhere. The agreement is if they can start

  2. Personally, I think the cases are due to allergies. It is the only thing that really makes sense in Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi among other states.

    1. Looks like it’s largely young adults who’ve been gathering and spreading the virus around among themselves:

      “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Axios that the recent high number of cases in young people is ‘not surprising.’ Like Frieden, he warned of what’s to come.

      “‘They get infected first, then they come home, and then they infect the older people. The older people get the complications, and then they go to the hospitals,’ Fauci said. ‘The death rate always lags several weeks behind the infection rate.\'”

      https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/22/health/us-coronavirus-monday/index.html

    2. You mean the allergy to science and common sense in many of those states’ politcians?

    3. You might as well say “I think windmills cause cancer”. That’s the level of absurdity you’re dealing in here.

  3. Yep. young “adults” looting, assaulting, rampaging and protesting have definitely lent cause to the uptick.

    1. Nope:

      https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-virus-cases-decline-despite-mass-protest-fears/571421142/

      https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/06/protests-covid-outdoor-masks.html?fbclid=IwAR1Uzb82JAr6Zy8qFM2Du7Ilh5u1btC7AlH8ndhTp7PkM58OvKu6Jd-wFa4

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-evaluate-coronavirus-risks-from-black-lives-matter-protests/

      1. Citing articles of far left pubs, proves your unabashed bias. Nice try. Not a word from you about Democrat Gov’s Commandeering those infected into nursing homes to increase the rates of infection. If you care so much about research and truth, then take a look. It’s pretty much, in your face.

          1. A little humor

            https://www.thelevisalazer.com/2020/06/15/this-coronavirus-is-the-strangest-virus-ive-ever-heard-of/

  4. It is all about the money, nothing more nothing less. The biggest story will be yet to come, which is what happens if College Football cannot play? Already Division Iii has cancelled fall sports, and you will see lots of minor sports get cut, and facilities construction will be slashed football cannot be played.For example:,The only profitable sports @ Penn State are football and men’s hoops and hockey ( wrestling breaks even). It can get ugly.

    1. To extend that a little, the idea that California state schools weren’t going to participate in football went by the wayside because they saw no one else had that plan – and they couldn’t miss out on the financial windfall.

      So they “opened” the universities – even though nearly all classes will be online and it’s unclear whether they’ll be welcoming back “students” (not student-athletes) to dorms.

  5. And it’s Play Ball!

    www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2020/06/23/mlb-implements-60-game-schedule-beginning-around-july-24/5308390002/

    Only it won’t look anything like real baseball, particularly if games go to extra innings. What? The idea of resolving tie games using relievers pitching at a dunk tank target, a homerun derby or simple tee ball didn’t get enough votes?

    Question for those who think the (abomination that is the) designated hitter is a good idea: Why stop at just one DH? Why not go full NFL and allow a completely different set of offensive and defensive players? I mean, if it’s about the offense… surely there can be no objection.

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