With the announcement by Major League Baseball this week, things are heating up around the sport. Concern continues to grow for players and personnel health. There is now a direct MLB Coronavirus impact. What will the impact on the game look like a month from now? Speculation seems to be immense and rumors amok.
The big announcement this week came in the form of limiting media access to players. The following was released a joint press statement Monday from the MLS, NBA, NHL and MLB:
“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting.”
This type of announcement came as no surprise to most people in the industry. Many felt that MLB had to do something to appear to be protecting the players and acting in their best interest. Media members who make their living covering baseball were not to pleased, however. Buster Olney, ESPN writer and producer, shared his view on his Baseball Tonight Podcast. Buster stated that restricting the 3-15 members of the media seemed silly when MLB’s VIP’s and special guests are still being given access. This includes both on-field and behind the scenes. In addition, Buster points out that “essential employees” is so ambiguous that pretty much anyone with an analytic can be granted access to the clubhouse.
It is unknown what the MLB coronavirus impact this will have one the fans of the game. On March 11, Governor of Washington State Jay Inslee placed a ban over three counties. This ban made it illegal to have a gathering of 250 or more people. One of the counties involved is the home of the Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Park. The Mariners released a statement with the usual “working with baseball” language on how to appropriately adjust the schedule. Fans will have to travel to all road games or to Arizona, where their spring training complex is located. As much of an inconvenience this will be for the franchise and fans, relocation in the short term seems to be the right decision. Protecting the citizens of Seattle is the priority.
If the relocation of games becomes a thing down the road that will hurt. Selling tickets is a major source of income for every franchise and losing home games definitely hurts their bottom line. This isn’t even considering playing games with zero fans in attendance. This would-be worst-case scenario could cripple the sport. Baseball fans are already on the perennial decline and denying access to the fans left could be a blow lasting decades. Money should never be a reason to place players, staff or fans in harm’s way. However, money talks and in this case, money might just be walking.
Spring Training is officially over. MLB canceled further spring training games today and delayed the start of the season. This delay, for now, will be re-evaluated at the end of March. MLB did consider starting the season on time without fans in the stands, but decided to not place the players at increased risk. Games have not been canceled in this magnitude since the season after the strike in 1995.
The biggest concern is always on the health of players and personnel. As needed, Major League Baseball and its staff are looking out for everyone, including the fans who are unhappy. Although it might be a tough decision, it is the right one. Here’s to hoping baseball is coming in the spring, even if slightly later than normal.