As It Happens

'Very, very tough': Sports writer says MLB's plan to bring back baseball is a long shot

According to a leaked plan, Major League Baseball could aim to start this year's regular baseball season next month — with players and league staff sequestered in Arizona, and no fans in the stands.

Jared Diamond says there are ‘ton of things that could potentially go wrong’

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been empty because of the coronavirus pandemic as the baseball season was shut down. A leaked plan by MLB could see it used as the main stadium for baseball games this season. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)


If Major League Baseball gets its way, this year's baseball season could get up and running — by sequestering players and league staff in Arizona.

Under the proposal, the regular season would begin next month with games played across 10 to 14 sites, including the league's spring training grounds. News of the idea was first broken by ESPN writer Jeff Passan.

While the games would be played with no fans in the stadiums, the games would still be broadcast, which could potentially be lucrative for the league. Jared Diamond, the Wall Street Journal's baseball writer, says the idea has been actively discussed for more than a week.

In a statement released Tuesday, MLB said it "has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so."

While sequestering players in one place is among the options discussed, the league has not yet made a decision, the statement reads.

Diamond spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the potential plan. Here is part of that conversation.

Jared, how soon from now does Major League Baseball think it actually might be able to get players onto the field?

Major League Baseball is trying to be as optimistic as it can and is coming up with a plan — or a proposal of a plan, a kernel of an idea — to send everybody to Arizona, keep everybody there, in a biodome and start playing games as soon as late May or early June. 

Now, this is a very ambitious project with a ton of things that could potentially go wrong. But as we sit here today, this is the best option Major League Baseball thinks it has.

Jared Diamond is the national baseball writer for the Wall Street Journal. (Submitted by Jared Diamond)

And in your opinion, how realistic is that?

It's going to be very, very tough. There's a lot of issues involved with trying to keep everybody sequestered in one place. Even if you get the players to agree to it, and they're certainly not all in lockstep on that issue, you also have to worry about all of the other people that are involved with putting on a Major League Baseball game. 

There's just so many people — thousands, ultimately, probably — that would need to be kept isolated for a very long time, potentially away from their families. I think it's a very hard thing to see happen. Doesn't mean it's impossible. 

This story is changing not week by week or day by day, but hour by hour, seemingly. So at this moment, baseball is full steam ahead in trying to just see if it's feasible. But I think what Major League Baseball has finally come to realize is that they are not going to be having a normal 2020.

For me and for many baseball fans, opening day is the single best day of the year. It is totally over Christmas, and it felt like it got cancelled and you don't know when it's coming back — or if it is going to come back at all in 2020.- Jared Diamond, Wall Street Journal

And [the players] would not be able to have their families with them. No one who's involved with this would be able to have anybody else but themselves on location.

That's one of the issues being discussed. Could it be that players could bring their families and they'd have to be sequestered too? Of course. That just means more people are now in this biodome and that makes it harder to control. 

I spoke with someone at Major League Baseball, in the MLBPA, the union, over the last couple days and one thing that I was told was that when they had their phone call about this — which was about a 30, 40-minute phone call — there was no shorter than 70 different issues that ... needed to be worked out before this could even begin to proceed. 

And I bet by the end of the day, it's more than 70 issues.

I can understand why the fans would want just somehow to get this back on track, to be able to watch baseball this spring. But what about the players? I mean, what's in it for them?

They're not getting paid if they don't play. And yes, they have a lot of money and they're rich, but the reality is it's millions of dollars they're not making by not playing. 

So I understand why at least some of them think they need their salaries, or they really want their salaries, and they want to play. Now, not every player feels that way. Some players are much more financially secure than others. 

Every player has different family situations. For instance, what happens if you're a player whose wife is supposed to give birth during the summer? Are you allowed to leave to go to that? Are you allowed to come back? If so, these are big issues and that's why not all players agree. 

But I do understand why those who do want to play say it's a lot of money to leave on the table if we don't find a way to play.

Fenway Park is seen on what would have been the home opening day for the Boston Red Sox against the Chicago White Sox on April 2, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

So what's in it for the owners? I mean, they're not going to get the ticket prices in the stadiums. I guess the games would be broadcast, [but] not much advertising is going to be happening during a recession. So what's in it for them?

Right now, their income is going to obviously be close to zero. The cash flow is virtually nothing with no games going on. And that's a hard pill to swallow when you're an $11-billion [US] industry like Major League Baseball is.

In today's world, ticket sales and the in-stadium experience is still very important. It drives billions of dollars for the owners — but it's not the majority anymore. They make more money from their giant media rights than they do ticket sales and the like today. And they don't get that money if there are no games on TV. 

So they know if they could find a way to get games on television, especially with people stuck at home, the ratings would be probably enormous.

Would it make up all of the revenue that they would have in a normal season? No, not even close. But it's a lot better than zero in the eyes of the owners.

Just on a personal note, how much do you miss baseball? This is a big part of your life.

The day I really recognized, and it really hit me, how weird the world is right now ... it was when opening day was supposed to have happened [on] March 26. 

For me and for many baseball fans, opening day is the single best day of the year. It is totally over Christmas, and it felt like it got cancelled and you don't know when it's coming back — or if it is going to come back at all in 2020.

Baseball is a constant for six months every single day. It is sort of there for you as your background noise. You just count on it. You rely on it to be there. And it was unfathomable until a couple of weeks ago that it wouldn't be. 

It's still tough that we're now heading into the middle of April soon and baseball is seemingly no closer to starting than it was a few weeks ago.

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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