August 2020

Time to Cancel 2020 Baseball Season: A Lesson for Colleges and Universities

The MLB in-person COVID experiment has been a failure. Colleges and universities should take note of this failure and act accordingly.

Ever since I can remember, baseball has been a staple of my summers. As a kid, I would spend every single day playing backyard games with my friends and then nights watching my beloved Boston Red Sox. In adulthood, the backyard games have gone away, but the seven o’clock Red Sox games are still a daily tradition for me and my family.

Like so many of us, I found the postponement of the MLB season due to COVID-19 disappointing. That being said, I understood the health risks of returning and appreciated the league’s decision to take care and precaution. With this in mind, I had mixed feelings when the league unveiled its plan for a sixty-game-season starting in July.

Watching sports has always been my way of relaxing after a long day of work. For this reason, I was excited baseball was soon returning and was cautiously optimistic. I wondered how baseball would look in the COVID world: how would a first baseman watch the bag while a runner is on? How would players shake hands or high-five after games as is tradition? How would players tag one another on the basepaths? Would all players wear masks? And most importantly, how would players interact off the field with the general public?

Image 1: The Miami Marlins celebrating after a victory on July 24th, 2020 with no distancing, no masks, and clear physical contact. The Marlins have reported numerous confirmed COVID cases. Courtesy of TIME..

To be honest, once the games started, my questions and anxieties did not go away. For something that has long been relaxing to me, I now found watching MLB games quite nerve-racking. While watching 2020 games, I spend most the time worrying about the players’ health and safety.

Prior to returning, the players and staffs were given a 101-page safety manual on how to best protect themselves from COVID-19. Some of the rules included: no spitting, no finger-licking, consistent social distancing, removal of baseballs that have been touched multiple times, and discouraging communal equipment. These are all elements of baseball that have long been naturally tied to the game—asking players to stop doing them is no simple task. In fact, they haven’t stopped doing them, while watching the games I frequently see players (whether purposefully or not) disobeying the health guidelines. Do I blame the players for behaving like baseball players? No. But do I also think this poses a health risk to them, their families, and the general public? Yes.

Image 2: Oakland Athletics pitcher Eric O’Flaherty licks his fingers in a 2014 game, a practice many MLB pitchers traditionally utilize. Courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle.

Even further, the MLB has chosen not to adopt a “bubble” model, like the NBA, where players are isolated from the general public in a set-location (the entire NBA is stationed in Orlando). The MLB is currently operating under a bubble-free format which means players and staff can be exposed to outside spread whether it be in their hotels, air travel, and various other elements of road trips.

We have already seen multiple instances in which the virus has spread amongst teams including the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who have had to postpone multiple series. This has meant whatever teams they have played in recent days also have to shut down and the teams they were set to play in coming days have to postpone as well.

This has set up a logistical nightmare for Major League Baseball. With all of these postponements, in an already shortened season, will it even be possible for all teams to play a sixty-game season before the cold of fall? It is appearing less and less likely as the MLB has already proposed to shorten double-header games to seven-innings in a desperate attempt to keep the season afloat.

With this in mind and the obvious health risks the continued spread of COVID throughout MLB poses, we must ask: is this season even worth it at this point? There are no fans in the stands. Watching players and staff on the field not following guidelines sets a poor public example. And most importantly, players and staff are getting sick and in turn, potentially endangering themselves and others.

MLB owners and the powers-that-be can afford a season of lost profits. If the season is not productive, fun, and safe, it must be canceled. It hurts me to say because I truly love baseball, but we cannot simply ignore COVID away. It is here and it is clear that MLB’s plan cannot stop it from spreading amongst its personnel. Our best bet is to plan and hope for better in 2021. This is not just about fun or entertainment—it is a global human rights and health issue. MLB needs to do the right thing and put the safety of human beings ahead of profits.  

It is clear the MLB in-person COVID experiment has been a failure. Colleges and universities should take note of this failure and act accordingly. Just like baseball players, students will not consistently follow guidelines. In-person learning will likely result in the same outcomes as Major League Baseball: more cases, ongoing postponements, and the potential spread to high-risk family and friends. Obviously, virtual learning is not ideal, but it is safe. Administrators have an opportunity to get this right before students return in the fall, whether or not they do so remains to be seen.

Michael T. Barry Jr., Editor, is a doctoral candidate in history at American University in Washington, DC. Michael is also a documentary filmmaker, specializing in oral history. His films “U Street Contested” and “The Universal Soldier: Vietnam” have won and been nominated for numerous awards, as they have screened at film festivals and historic venues across the country. He teaches American history at Montgomery College in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter at @MTBarryJr.

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