Ward Harkavy never met a corrupt blowhard he didn’t like to joyfully skewer

Of all the editors I’ve had over the years, Ward Harkavy might just be my absolute favorite, both as a journalist and as a human being. He arrived at the Village Voice as the new sports editor in 2000 after long stints at alt-weeklies in Phoenix and Denver and a brief one at the short-lived Long Island Voice, and immediately seemed like he’d been there forever, his Oklahoma twang notwithstanding. Though he didn’t know me at all beyond my occasional Voice bylines, he greeted me like an old friend and enthusiastically assigned me countless articles on various instances of sports owner nefariousness; when the Voice sports section vanished out from under him as abruptly as the Long Island Voice had, he shifted over to news editor (and, briefly, interim editor-in-chief) and we kept up our partnership without interruption, expanding it to include state politician nefariousness and federal official nefariousness and developer nefariousness and city officials conspiring with sports team officials to siphon off public funds to pay for lobbying to extract even more public funds. (If you’ve been reading this site over the years, a lot of the reporting here was underwritten by paid articles that were commissioned on Ward’s watch.) Nothing tickled Ward more than taking down powerful people who used their power to screw over the greater public, especially when it could be done with the combination of righteous — but never self-righteous — indignation and cynical good humor that was his daily approach to our crazy world.

Ward died yesterday morning, of Covid, which he apparently contracted at a rehab facility where he was recovering from complications of dental surgery. It’s unthinkable that I’ll never hear his voice again — not just his actual voice, greeting me with a “Hi, twin!” because of one long-ago day when we both turned up at the Voice dressed in identical office garb of t-shirts and shorts, but his writing voice, which since he was summarily fired from the Voice in 2011 (everyone got summarily fired from the Voice, eventually) he had dedicated to creating a parallel universe of equally hilarious and incisive nefariousness coverage on Twitter and Facebook. A world whose absurdities aren’t chronicled by Ward Harkavy doesn’t seem like a world at all; it’s a small comfort to know that the countless people who loved and admired him will do our part to pick up his mantle, but only a small one. Goodbye, Ward — the world has too few genuinely good people in it to lose you so soon.

Friday roundup: Rattling sabers for Panthers stadium, leagues large and small seek bailouts, and a very large yacht

So how’s everyone out there, you know, doing? As the pandemic slowly feels less like a momentary crisis to be weathered and more like a new way of living to be learned (I refuse to say “new normal,” as nothing about this will ever feel normal), it’s tempting to occasionally look up and think about what habits and activities from the before times still make sense; I hope that FoS continues to educate and entertain you in ways that feel useful (or at least usefully distracting) — from all accounts the entire world being turned upside down hasn’t been enough to interrupt sports team owners’ important work of stadium shakedowns, so it’s good if we can keep at least half an eye on it, amid our stress-eating and TV bingewatching.

So get your half an eye ready, because a whole bunch of stuff happened again this week:

The Columbus Crew are here to cure your pandemic doldrums with fresh bonkers vaportecture

I know that it’s rough out there, with the economy in freefall, and much of the U.S. still seeing rising Covid case numbers even as governors (and judges) tell businesses they can reopen, and Netflix starting to run out of TV shows to keep us distracted. So I could not be more pleased to report that the Columbus Crew have got our backs with some brand-new vaportecture renderings of what their new stadium will (probably, maybe, almost assuredly not) look like when it opens next year, if there is a next year:

This shot is weirdly underlit, so it’s hard to tell exactly what all these late-arriving fans are carrying into the arena: U.S. flags? Liberian flags? There does appear to be at least one yellow-and-black striped Crew flag for sale that bears a passing resemblance to the American flag, but it doesn’t appear to be the most popular design, so maybe the renderers thought they could get away with some U.S. flag clip art and no one would notice if the scene was dark enough? Also, what’s up with the giant soccer ball hovering over the people on the sidewalk? If that’s a balloon, they’re not going to be allowed to bring it into the stadium and obstruct their fellow fans’ views, are they?

Moving on:

Just a bunch of soccer fans suspended midair along a drink rail while outside a spatially distorted pedicab cuts across traffic to prepare to mow down unsuspecting pedestrians, nothing to see here!

We’re all used to seeing all kinds of things added to the air above stadium renderings — fireworks, mostly — but this is the first time I can recall seeing a flock of birds. Do we think someone actually put those in to enhance the attractiveness of the image, or did they just find “flock of birds” in some pulldown menu and figured they might as well use it somewhere, if only to justify claiming the clip art expansion pack as a business expense?

This is a normal enough soccer scene — players contesting a ball, smoke bombs going off in the supporters’ section — unless you actually pay attention to the soccer. Number 6, mark your man! Somebody on the navy blue team, get open for a cross! And where’s the keeper? Was he so confused by the fact that the touchline wasn’t laid out at a 90-degree angle that he couldn’t figure out where to stand? Was he mowed down by a rogue pedicab? So many questions.

Now there’s some fireworks! Plus people pointing randomly at the sky and holding up scarves, because you know that’s what vaporfans love to do.

Feel better now? I sure do! MLS may be busy with wacky schemes to put up all 26 teams in Orlando for a summer tournament, but vaporsoccer is alive and well and, if those ecstatic fans are any indication, way more entertaining.

“A savvy negotiator creates leverage”: That time the White Sox pretended to move to Florida to get stadium money from Illinois

One of the things I’ve been doing to keep myself occupied during our sports-deprived present has been watching old baseball games, especially those from the ’70s and ’80s with ridiculous uniforms. Most recently I landed on a Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers game from 1988 at Comiskey Park, which featured this:

…plus lots of discussion from Tigers announcers George Kell and Al Kaline about what a shame it would be if the White Sox moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.

Readers of Field of Schemes the book and Field of Schemes the website will be familiar with this as one of the most memorable move threats of the early modern stadium-grubbing era. To recap: Unhappy with their historic but insufficiently state-of-the-art stadium, White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn had asked the Illinois state legislature for a new one, at public expense. And since giving the local sports team owners $150 million to build a new stadium across the street from the old one wasn’t entirely popular — Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, Reinsdorf later recalled, advised, “It’ll never happen unless people think you are going to leave” — Reinsdorf hopped on a plane to St. Petersburg, Florida, which was in the process of building its Florida Suncoast Dome (now known as Tropicana Field) in hopes of luring an MLB team, a trip that made headlines back in Chicago and helped prompt the banners at that Tigers-White Sox game in late May.

By June 30, the Illinois legislature was ready to vote, with a midnight deadline if proponents didn’t want to have to muster a three-fifths majority, likely an insurmountable obstacle. And thanks to arm-twisting by Thompson — plus a bit of subterfuge by house speaker Michael Madigan, who set his watch back by four minutes so that a 12:03 am vote could be recorded as being at 11:59 pm — the new stadium bill was approved, 30-29 in the state senate and 60-55 in the state house.

Reinsdorf’s Florida jaunt clearly had made an impact: The Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the vote flatly stated that rejection of the stadium subsidy bill would have “[left] the Sox no choice but to leave the South Side for St. Petersburg.” But was Reinsdorf serious, or just following Thompson’s advice to throw a scare into the Illinois populace? Seven years later, Cigar Aficionado magazine asked the Sox co-owner about it, and received a response for the ages:

“A savvy negotiator creates leverage. People had to think we were going to leave Chicago.”

As for St. Petersburg, city officials there kept shopping around for another team to lure to town, eventually helping the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, and Texas Rangers create leverage to score new-stadium deals at home as well, as memorialized in a FoS magnet. Finally, it looked like the city had hit paydirt when San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie, frustrated at having failed four times to get stadium-subsidy referendums passed in the San Francisco Bay Area, announced he was selling the team to Tampa Bay businessman Vince Naimoli. The rest of the National League owners, however, voted to reject the sale and to tell Lurie to instead sell to local supermarket baron Peter Magowan, which he did, saving the Giants for San Francisco.

This time, though, Naimoli had actual evidence of MLB interference in St. Petersburg landing a team — since Lurie had actually announced a deal, unlike Reinsdorf and other earlier owners who’d merely played footsie with Tampa Bay. He sued MLB, and, with the league unwilling to risk its decades-old antitrust exemption in a court battle, within two years was awarded the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as an expansion franchise, setting the stage for another relocation-threat saga that continues to this day.

Anyway, go watch that Tigers-Sox game if you want an interesting glimpse at the origin story of the sports move-threat campaign. Those White Sox fans with the “Stay In Chicago” banner likely didn’t know that they were unwitting pawns in a political battle over hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, and knowing baseball fans they might not have cared if they were. But they — and Reinsdorf’s “savvy negotiations” — have echoes in every sports stadium battle of the last 30 years, and likely will for the next 30 unless cities start calling owners’ bluffs. Not to mention setting their watches right.

New state coronavirus plans: Reopen sports venues and concerts, see if people start dropping dead

It is becoming increasingly clear that the answer to “How will sports and concerts and other things in the U.S. reopen?” is “However the hell individual governors feel like it, and damn the science.” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared last week that concert venues can now reopen if concertgoers socially distance (though Missouri concert venues have been decidedly uninterested in booking shows just yet); Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson followed that up on Saturday with the announcement that arenas and stadiums can reopen at one-third capacity, which it doesn’t take complex math to see isn’t going to work too well if you want to ensure six feet between each set of fans. (Taiwan, the only nation so far to resume sports in front of live fans, has been limiting baseball stadiums to between 5% and 10% of capacity.)

In the absence of any federal plan, however, nothing is stopping governors from making up their own rules, which means we’re likely going to see a patchwork of reopenings under different social-distancing guidelines in the weeks and months ahead. That could potentially be very, very bad for sports- and concertgoers in those states (and anyone who potentially comes in contact with them, which is to say pretty much everyone who lives in those states) if it turns out sitting three seats away from your nearest neighbor while masked isn’t enough to stop the spread of Covid-19. [UPDATE: Just spotted some new evidence that social distancing is essentially useless indoors, though masks may help some here.] Arkansas and Missouri both have had relatively low death tolls from the virus so far, but also their new case rates haven’t even started to come down from the peaks they reached a month ago, though at least Missouri can claim that this is a positive sign since it’s massively scaled up testing in that time period.

On the bright side, if you can call it a bright side, all these differing state-by-state rules should make a nice controlled experiment in the effects of lifting various restrictions: If you’re an elected official wondering whether to reopen bars, say, you can just look a couple of states over and count the dead bodies to see how that’s likely to go. It’s also going to make a shambles of any plans for sports leagues to restart with all teams in their home venues — check out this hilarious CBS Sports article about how MLB plans to start its season in July, with its 12th-paragraph aside that “all travelers to Canada are subject to a 14-day quarantine, which could create headaches for the [Toronto] Blue Jays and their opponents” — but as we’re seeing with the Bundesliga’s attempts to restart its season despite the entire Dynamo Dresden team being AWOL for two weeks while quarantining after two players tested positive, any resumption of sports is necessarily going to have to be tentative and subject to rapid change if people start getting sick and/or dropping dead.

And, really, any resumption of anything, now that it’s becoming ever more clear that a single weeks-long shutdown isn’t going to do anything more than buy some more time for hospitals to catch their breaths, and doctors to work on better treatments, and cities and states to ramp up testing and contact tracing capacity (after first engaging in the requisite petty political bickering over it) while we await a vaccine — something that’s not a 100% sure thing to arrive even in 2021, or ever. It would be very nice to wait for science to provide answers to key questions like “Are schools key transmission vectors?” and “Are surfaces relatively safe compared to contact with actual people or do we need armies of disinfectant-spraying drones?” before we start going back out in public, but it looks like most political leaders (in the U.S. especially, but elsewhere too) aren’t willing to wait for the slow grind of scientific research. So instead we’ll get a series of mass experiments, with human beings as guinea pigs. Get your tickets now!

Friday roundup: CFL calls its owners “philanthropists” who need bailout, plus actual sport with actual fans takes place in actual stadium!

And how is everyone out there? Going stir-crazy? Waking up early to watch Korean baseball? Starving to death? All good options!

I personally have been watching this 1988 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos (spoiler: Randy Johnson is, as the announcers keep noting, very tall), while continuing to keep tabs on what passes for sports stadium and subsidy news these days. Let’s get to it — the news, I mean, not the Phils-Expos game, I have that paused:

 

No, seriously, what will happen in restarted sports leagues when a player tests positive?

Amidst all the so very many articles on when sports leagues may or could or are thinking of restarting, I’ve been keeping an eye out for discussion of one important question: If a league starts play, with precautions for testing players and coaches and TV crews and hotel workers and whatever, what happens when one of those tests comes up positive? And finally, one league has provided an answer:

Fans will be barred from games until the [Korea Baseball Organization] is convinced the risk of infection has been minimized. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus at any point of the season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.

If you’re serious about using testing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through your league, this makes total sense: Any positive test needs to be followed by quarantine of everyone who has had contact with that person in recent days, which in the case of a sports league is going to mean pretty much everyone in the league. It’s going to make for an awfully tentative schedule — not to mention a dicey ESPN programming schedule — but in a nation where they’ve been averaging only seven new cases per day over the last week in a population of 52 million people, I guess they figure it’s a gamble worth taking.

But what if you can’t reasonably expect to test everyone and have everyone test negative? That’s what we’re seeing right now in the Bundesliga in Germany — 1,000 new cases per day out of a population of 83 million — and the way it’s being managed is very different:

Two days before German government officials will announce whether the country’s top two professional soccer leagues may resume play amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Bundesliga officials confirmed Monday that they had encountered 10 positive tests in their attempt to finish the season.

In all, the governing DFL announced Monday, 1,724 players, coaches, team physicians and other staff members have been tested. At least four of the positive tests came from players — three from Cologne and one “inconclusive result” from second-division Stuttgart on a player who has been quarantined for 14 days — and all 10 who tested positive are not believed to be displaying any symptoms of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the New York Times.

That was yesterday. Today:

The German Bundesliga season can resume this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed.

So … what’s the point of all that testing, if not to quarantine those who’ve been in close contact with anyone who tests positive? The Bundesliga has said it will be testing everyone twice a week, but that’s still plenty of time for a player or staffer to catch and spread Covid-19 in between tests, if they’re not quarantined.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that a perfect quarantine isn’t necessary: You really only need to keep R0 (the average number of that each infected person in turn infects) below 1, and any new outbreak will fizzle out. The Bundesliga is adding a ton of other social distancing rules, from requiring that players shower and dress separately to keeping starting lineups to be kept separate from substitutes for meals and warmups, so maybe that will be enough to keep transmission rates low — maybe. You’ll have some individuals getting infected, almost surely, but if it’s only a few, on a societal level it won’t cause devastating effects. (Of course, if you’re a player who comes down with Covid and risks spreading it to your family members as a result, you may not find it quiet so reassuring that you’re statistically insignificant.)

And if R0 can’t be kept low enough to stop one Bundesliga player or staffer from turning into a superspreader? No one seems to have thought about that, or maybe no one can bear to think about it out loud. German soccer officials have previously warned that 13 teams could be on the brink of insolvency if the season doesn’t resume, so apparently not shutting down until there’s an actual out-of-control outbreak is the gamble they’re willing to take.

And for sports leagues in nations like the U.S. (27,000 new cases per day in a population of 328 million), clearly even thinking about what to do in case of a positive test result is unthinkable, because no one is mentioning it aloud. In fact, sports leagues (and the sports journalists who uncritically reprint their pronouncements) aren’t mentioning lots of things aloud right now, as witness this article from CBS Miami on contingency plans for a Miami Dolphins restart:

Masks would be required. Fans would order concessions from their seats to be picked up later rather than waiting on line.

Okay, so everyone would wear masks, and to avoid close contact with fellow fans they would stay out of concession lines and instead pick up their food one at a time, and then go back to their seats and eat it … through their masks … um, CBS Miami, I have some followup questions? Hello?

St. Louis Cardinals get $1m from big-business pandemic relief program you’ve never heard of

There are an awful lot of government programs to provide financial help to both individuals and businesses during the pandemic crash, and the nooks and crannies of the multiple relief bills passed by Congress contain even more. A bunch of these are “small business” programs, and as we’ve seen before, the feds define a whole lot of things as small businesses, including sports teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, whose owners applied for $4.6 million in refundable loans via the Payroll Protection Program before giving it back when they realized it looked bad. And now, hey look, the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals have found another program that they can get cash from!

It turns out that our beloved baseball team has also discovered a way to help itself to a share of the very same federal CARES COVID-19 relief dollars, but under a separate tax credit provision established for companies that don’t qualify for the PPP.

The tax credits portion of the CARES act has flown under the radar. Under it, a qualified company can receive taxpayer dollars indirectly through a reduction of its employer-match share of social security (FICA) payments. A company gets forgiven up to $5,000 per employee in taxes it would normally have owed, in exchange for maintaining a certain level of its workforce.

The Riverfront Times’ Ray Hartmann goes on to note that while the Cardinals wouldn’t divulge the total tax credit it was applying for, with 280 non-player employees listed on their website, they’d likely be looking at “substantially more than $1 million in CARES tax savings.” Further investigation reveals that while the Employee Retention Credit, as it’s known, is technically formulated as a “tax credit” on FICA payments (likely in order to make it non-taxable income), as a refundable tax credit it can be more than a company is actually paying in FICA — so in practice it’s just a $5,000 check for every employee earning at least $10,000 between March 12, 2020 and January 1, 2021, making “more than $1 million” a decent ballpark figure.

So, how evil is this, on scale of 1 to Sauron? From what I can tell, the ERC isn’t a set pool of money like the PPP; any employer is eligible, and it’s not first-come-first-served. So at least the Cardinals owners getting cash isn’t denying funds to some other more needy recipient. (Unless you count future Americans as a whole as needy, since we’ll be the ones ultimately paying off the trillions of dollars being borrowed to pay for all this.) And while Hartmann writes:

This is not just a case of a company taking all the normal tax breaks to which it is entitled. Everyone has a right to do that. No one needs to tip the government. This is about a professional sports franchise actively pursuing tax breaks expressly meant for folks who are suffering.

…that’s not exactly true, because this is actually a tax break expressly meant for businesses, the bigger the better. While you can make a case that this is encouraging companies to retain employees — hence the name of the provision — you could also argue that since employers are unlikely to keep on unneeded workers just to get a $5,000 tax break, it seems likely to result in a lot of businesses just getting subsidies to retain people they’d be keeping on anyway.

In fact, the bigger concern here is the construction of the Employee Retention Credit in the first place, which seems geared to benefit large corporations the most, given that it’s available to businesses of any size but not to self-employed individuals, even though the self-employed do pay the employer portion of business taxes. If a billionaire sports team owner takes advantage of a government program designed to take advantage of a global crisis to funnel money to billionaires, who is really to blame here? Crony capitalism? The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling? Society as a whole? This fighting evil business really would be a whole lot easier if you could just drop a magic ring into a lava vent to solve all your problems.

Friday roundup: Another Canadian sports bailout request, and everyone pretends to know when things may or may not reopen

Happy May, everybody! This crisis somehow both feels like it’s speeding into the future and making time crawl — as one friend remarked yesterday, it’s like we’ve all entered an alternate universe where nothing ever happens — and we have to hold on to the smallest glimmers of possible news and the tiniest drips of rewards to keep us going and remind us that today is not actually the same as yesterday. In particular, today is fee-free day on Bandcamp, when 100% of purchase prices goes to artists, and lots of musicians have released new albums and singles and video downloads for the occasion. Between that and historic baseball games on YouTube with no scores listed so you can be surprised at how they turn out, maybe we’ll get through the weekend, at least.

And speaking of week’s end, that’s where we are, and there’s plenty of dribs and drabs of news-like items from the week that just passed, so let’s catch up on what the sports world has been doing while not playing sports:

The only thing wrong with ESPN’s prediction of baseball resuming in 2020 is everything

Jeff Passan of ESPN has been at the forefront of “how Major League Baseball plans to return in 2020” reporting, even when that’s sometimes devolved into just repeating what wish-fulfillment fantasies MLB owners mumble to themselves so they can sleep at night. Yesterday, though, Passan went all-in on wish-fulfillment, reporting that baseball officials are “increasingly optimistic that there will be baseball this year,” something that ESPN’s web headline writers turned into “There will be MLB in 2020. It’s just a matter of when, where and how.”

Given that when last we checked in with MLB’s plans for restarting, they involved an “everyone involved in putting on games gets placed in a hermetically sealed bubble” plan that was both impractical and roundly panned by players who didn’t want to be kept away from their families for months at a time, what exactly has changed to produce this optimism? Take it away, Jeff:

It’s a contradictory existence in which the baseball world is doing everything it can to prepare for games without any firm plan in place for when or where those games will be played.

That is not actually contradictory! It’s the kind of deck-chair-reshuffling that everyone is doing right now, hoping for a world where reshuffled deck chairs can let things return to somewhat normal while also preparing for the worst if they can’t. “MLB doesn’t know what it’s going to do but is hard at work doing it” isn’t really a news story, but let’s see what else Passan has in his reportorial pocket.

Where will games be played? Well, the easy answer is Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey has welcomed the idea of hosting all 30 teams, but logistical issues abound. There is also a wide variety of so-called hub plans, in which baseball would station teams in a set number of cities. The Arizona-Dallas-Tampa possibility that CBS Sports reported is an option. So is a four-city plan. And five. And six.

Just look at the opportunities starting in early May: Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Colorado and Minnesota are among the states slated to have stay-at-home restrictions lifted. That means more than a quarter of MLB teams could theoretically host games without fans right now.

Okay, no, they really could not. Let’s take Minnesota for example: It indeed is allowing some manufacturing and other businesses to reopen on a trial basis, but it also explicitly excluded pro sports from this list, so just because the state won’t be on total lockdown doesn’t mean MLB can start scheduling games at the Twins‘ home stadium anytime in the future, let alone “in early May.” Plus, MLB would still have to figure out how to build a city of 10,000 people that can stay coronavirus-free for months at a time, which is easier said than done, and it’s not even that easy to say.

Passan doesn’t actually say that MLB will restart in early May, or anywhere close to it. His “timeline that a number of people in decision-making positions see as realistic” is:

Finalize a plan in May. Hash out an agreement with the players by the end of the month or early June. Give players a week to arrive at designated spring training locations. Prepare for three weeks. Start the season in July. Play around an 80- to 100-game season in July, August, September and October. Hold an expanded playoff at warm-weather, neutral sites in November.

If you’ve been following the pandemic news closely, you probably see the problem here: Even if some potential MLB stadium sites are ready to reopen by June, there’s a significant likelihood that they’ll have to re-close a couple of months later as the next wave of the coronavirus roller coaster hits. Everything that epidemiologists have learned about virus transmission predicts that any significant lifting of social distancing rules will likely result in fresh outbreaks a couple of months later, and while that’s not set in stone — there could be new treatments developed in the meantime, wearing masks could turn out to be way more effective than anyone at first thought, etc. — planning to hold six months of baseball, counting spring training and postseason, seems reckless in the extreme.

Passan’s sources have a plan for that, too, though:

If a second wave of the coronavirus arrives and threatens to shut down the country again, MLB could try to wait it out and just hold a giant playoff…

“Give us 60 days,” one official said, “and we could run an amazing tournament.”

This is actually something that occurred to me as well: If you want to have baseball and all you have is a window of a few weeks, the best way to approach it isn’t to figure out how to salvage a regular season, but what’s the best you can do in that time frame. And by far the most successful 60-day sports format is a World Cup of some kind. How you organize it is up for grabs — Passan floats 16 intradivisional games followed by the top two teams in each division entering a round-robin stage; I would go with a more traditional group stage with six division winners, six runners-up, and four wild cards followed by a Round of 16, etc. But either way, it’s something you could conceivably do in a two-month window, though you’d need to keep training camp down to a bare minimum. (One way to do this: Limit games to seven innings, so starting pitchers don’t have to be as stretched out before the season can start.)

Passan’s plan starts to go off the rails, though, when he envisions his playoff format:

Oct. 22-Oct. 31: The six American League teams that advance congregate at one hub. The six National League teams gather at another. They play each of the other five teams twice in a round-robin format with a collective day off in the middle. The four teams with the best records in each league advance. In the meantime, the nine non-advancing teams from each league meet at a hub and play one game against the rest of the teams there. The winner of that round-robin regains entry into the playoffs. In the case of a tie, hold a winner-advances one-game play-in-to-the-playoff.

That is a lot of hubs! And a lot of players, and team staffs, and TV camera operators, traveling to and from each one, and checking into new hotels, and so on. Which means either you’re going to have to quarantine everybody for 14 days before starting each new round, or you’re going to have to accept that you might get some new infections with each new round, and have a system in place for dealing with that that doesn’t involve shutting everything down again. (Taxi squads of entire substitute teams that are kept in plastic wrap somewhere?) Plus, you have to be damn sure that all of your proposed sites are going to remain virus-free (or at least at low infection levels) and not on lockdown for the whole 60 days, which is not at all a sure thing given that many states are currently reopening businesses despite Covid cases still being on the rise.

So why is Passan so dead sure that there will be baseball in 2020? Because, apparently, the alternative is too grim to imagine:

What gives Manfred and others so much confidence that there will be a season then?

Incentive. It’s not just that everyone wants a season. It’s the doom and gloom over what will happen if there isn’t one.

Okay, I get it. I really do. I don’t want to imagine an entire year without baseball, either, and so if there are straws to be grasped at, I’m eager to grasp at them as much as the next guy. But reporting this as “increasing optimism” about baseball in 2020 rather than “increasing wishful thinking” is just journalistic malpractice — after all, everyone was optimistic that there would be hockey in 2004-05, but in the end there wasn’t, and that was just over issues that were resolvable by human negotiators, without having to give not-really-alive organisms a seat at the bargaining table.

So let’s rewrite that headline for you, ESPN: “MLB wants to play in 2020. They just don’t know when, where, or how.” It’s not going to get as many clicks from baseball-hungry fans desperate for good news, and it’s not going to boost parent company Disney’s stock value in the face of cratering projected revenues, but it does have the benefit of being true.