The 2020 Major League Baseball season seems to be taking shape. On May 14, MLB owners approved a plan with a July start date, an 82-game season and a 50/50 revenue split between owners and players. They sent it to the players association to get its approval; while some players have reacted favorably to the plan, others have responded negatively.
Comments from Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper — who’ve all said they’re not willing to play unless they get all of their money — put the focus squarely on the financial aspect of the deal, but money can’t be the primary focus right now.
The attention has to be about players’ health and safety, especially those with preexisting conditions and ones more likely to contract COVID-19. There also needs to be a laser focus on the players returning to gameplay, as they haven’t had real workouts for a few months, and their bodies aren’t able to immediately get back to action.
On May 16, MLB submitted a 67-page document outlining medical and safety measures to the player’s association. The document requires that all on-field personnel get tested regularly and that anyone who reported COVID-19 symptoms, a temperature over 100 degrees or has been in close contact with anyone with a confirmed case, needs to be tested immediately. Spitting, high fives and the use of recovery facilities like hydrotherapy pools and cryotherapy chambers are some of the common actions of players and coaches that’ll be forbidden.
There’s been pushback to some of the requirements. ESPN’s Jeff Passan said that some players didn’t take too kindlyto some aspects of the document, and he added that some parts are expected to be revised.
"Not getting to use any of the facilities that help recover our bodies is going to be a problem," Miami Marlins pitcher Brandon Kitzler said on ESPN.
However, all these precautions are necessary. Neel Gahndi, a professor of epidemiology and infectious disease at Emory University, said to The Athletic that infections are going to happen regardless of how much preparation goes in and that it’s only a matter of slowing down the spread of the infections.
All of these requirements — as annoying as they may seem to some players — are needed to limit the spread of the disease. There are several MLB players who have health conditions or have had past injuries or surgeries and are more susceptible to coronavirus. For example, Rockies outfielder David Dahl had his spleen removed in 2015, and the Mayo Clinic states that someone is more likely to contract a life-threatening disease after spleen removal.
Other players who may be at higher risk include Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco — who was diagnosed with leukemia last season — and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen, who has undergone two heart procedures. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that elders are at a higher risk to get COVID-19; according to ESPN, there are eight umpires and seven managers over 60, including Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, who’s baseball’s oldest manager at 70 years old.
But steps can’t just be taken to minimize the chance of people contracting the coronavirus; there also need to be measures taken so players can return to play without the risk of hurting themselves. Players haven’t had the ability to stay ready to play, and a speedy return to play could cause a spike in injuries, as was seen with the rise of Achilles injuries after the 2011 NFL lockout.
If the current proposal is accepted by the players’ association and the season starts at the beginning of July, there’d be a three-week “spring training 2.0” beforehand in June. However, if players do need to get back into game shape, that short timespan wouldn’t be long enough and too much, too quickly would cause muscle overload and players would get hurt.
“Too much, too soon and a player is vulnerable to injury, even with only a brief time in training,” Ian McMahan of The Athletic wrote. “Having a player do too little is just as risky, as the bite-sized amounts of throwing, hitting and sprinting get players ready for the full meal of a season.”
A three-week timespan won’t be enough time for a starting pitcher to get his arm loose and ready to throw around 100 pitches in a game. Likewise, catchers are in a squatted position for over two hours a game, which puts tremendous stress on the knees and legs. A short build-up time would be harmful to these players and prevent them from performing at an elite level late in the season and playoffs.
“Muscles tend to get a lot more blood flow and can recover day to day quite a bit faster than tendons, ligaments, and bones can where blood flow is not as readily present to help those body parts regenerate,” Geoff Head, senior director of health and performance for the Cincinnati Reds, said to McMahan.
As a strange MLB season comes into the picture, there’s been a debate over how the revenue will be shared between owners and players. However, that can’t be the primary concentration. The main focus needs to be on everyone’s health, and every step needs to be taken to limit the spread of coronavirus so that players can return safely without potential damage to their bodies. If that’s done, then there will be a successful and exciting 2020 season.
Contact Joshua Gingrich at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.