“Let them play ball,” says Manfred—Maybe not yet, fans and players respond
In this April 15, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Mike Trout prepares to bat against the Los Angeles Angels during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas. With the national sports calendar on hold because of the coronavirus, there were no games Wednesday, April 15, 2020, on Jackie Robinson Day, when every person in uniform wears Robinson’s retired No. 42. MLB games and NBA playoffs were among sporting events that had been scheduled this week. | Michael Ainsworth / AP

Another fine, sunny day without baseball. It breaks your heart.

Even more so, as Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, passed by without the usual fanfare in ballparks nationwide. But we can tamp down our impatience, often bordering on irritation, knowing that we are doing the right thing by staying home, and Major League Baseball likewise by still holding off Opening Day 2020—at least through mid-May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to hold off all gatherings of 50 people or more till then.

If you are Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Baseball, you’d want baseball to be ready to hit the field seconds after health officials give the ok.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to turn over every stone to try to play the game in 2020 if there’s any way we can in this environment,” Manfred said Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press.

The sports desk here touched on it briefly earlier this week—that among the ‘Plan B’ options being considered is housing all 30 teams in the Phoenix Metro area, taking advantage of the 10 spring training ballparks, and the retractable dome above Chase Field.

“We have tried to be cautious about trying to go too soon, based on what the public health situation is,” Manfred said during a telephone interview. “For people to be out there saying we’re not going to have any sports in 2020, I think that’s going the other way. I think we all need, no matter what your predilection is, to wait for the situation to unfold more, give us more information and then make realistic decisions about what’s possible.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, says the state is more than willing to host all 30 teams.

“Arizona, at the right time, is very open-minded to hosting whatever Major League Baseball would like from the state,” said Ducey, Tuesday. “At the time that it would be appropriate for public health, if Arizona were in a position to reopen, we have the facilities that are here.”

Why the Sun Devil State?

An abundance of large hotels with over 425 rooms to house players, umpires, team staff, etc.

Is it worth the risk, though?

Well, it did get a thumbs up from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during a Snapchat interview Wednesday.

“Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled,” says Fauci. “Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

That’s all well and good, but fails to take into account the emotional toll players will experience being sequestered for long periods without their families.

“Where do we live? Who’s allowed to come with us? Are we only allowed to go to the field and back to the hotel? What kind of hotel? What kind of accommodations are we working with? Is there going to be meal money?” said Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver. “Then you get into player health, and we’re talking about playing in 120-degree weather on spring training fields potentially living out of a visiting locker room.”

All important questions as the league, players, and MLB Players Association start hurtling over these and many other possible logistical roadblocks to starting the season.

Despite an agreement reached to maintain players’ financial stability and benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, the MLB and MLBPA have “yet to resume talks” about any plan to start the season in Arizona, since an initial meeting April 6, according to sources of The Athletic.

In an interview with USA Today, union chief Tony Clark said: “I’m a glass-half-full guy anyways, but as I sit here on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, I continue to remain optimistic that the possibility of playing still exists.”

While optimism is a precious commodity during such dreary times, it doesn’t begin to mitigate the legitimate concerns and hesitation rank and file ballplayers have with the Arizona plan.

Clark says that they’ve not gotten close to anything concrete, and any plan will be run by the players as it edges closer to a final plan.

“We’re still a ways from that,” Clark said. “There have been a lot of ideas thrown out there, but not much to the depth of them. Once we find ourselves in discussions with the league in terms of options and variations, we, in turn, can present those ideas to the players, and the players can decide what makes the most sense.”

Clark added that the two main points “everything centers around” are the availability of testing and a vaccine for players, and he says neither can be at the expense of public testing—which has been an absolute disaster under the current administration in the White House.

So, while we continue to patiently wait out the upcoming Opening Day 2020 negotiations, and possible deal, let’s keep watching those All-Time Games re-runs.

Might I suggest today’s special 2013 Subway Series, NY Yankees at NY Mets—it’s Jacob DeGroms’s MLB debut.

Here’s a quick preview below:


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.