MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred joined CNN’s Global Town Hall Thursday evening and said he is “hopeful” games will be played this summer.
As the days progress, it appears more and more likely that some form of a 2020 Philadelphia Phillies season will indeed take place. Thursday evening, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred joined CNN’s Global Town Hall with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta; when asked about the possibilities of the league playing games this year, Manfred replied that he thinks it is “hopeful that we will have some Major League Baseball this summer.”
“We are making plans by playing in empty stadiums, but as I’ve said before, all of those plans are dependent on what the public health situation is and us reaching the conclusion it’ll be safe for our players and other employees to come back to work,” Manfred continued.
Other baseball leagues have already returned to action around the world, notably in Taiwan and Korea. Players are regularly tested there, and that will not be any different for Major League Baseball players if a season were to occur. In fact, players would be tested “multiple times a week.”
Development of ‘Extensive’ Protocols
“We have developed extensive protocols. A key to those is frequent testing,” Manfred said during the Town Hall. “All of our players would be tested multiple times a week, PCR testing, to determine whether or not they have the virus. That testing would be supplemented less frequently by antibody testing as well.”
Cooper followed up by asking Manfred what happens if a player believes it is “too risky” to play. Manfred replied that the league hopes it will be able to convince most players that it would be “safe to return to work,” given the health protocols for returning to play are about “80 pages in length.”
“They’re extraordinarily detailed,” Manfred said. “They cover everything from how the players will travel, private charters, charters have to be cleaned, who has access to the ballpark, strict limits on number of people, [and] tiering of employees so even those people in the ballpark will be isolated in general from the players.”
Manfred continued in saying that the league would never force a player to return and that they can wait “until they feel they are ready to come.” One vocal player who has already expressed concern is superstar outfielder Mike Trout, who said in mid-April that there are a lot of “red flags.”
A point was later brought up by the Town Hall hosts that the MLB Players Union has said it would not agree to the league’s proposal because of an ensuing pay cut and the “risk not being worth it.”
“You’re going to try to convince them obviously it’s safe, but what about just the optics of this overall?” Manfred was asked, “Thirty-five million people have lost their jobs in the country, there’s a fight going on over money at MLB. How do you handle the optics of this?”
Manfred replied that whenever there is a public discussion about economics, “people tend to characterize it as a fight.” Manfred says he has “great confidence” an agreement will be reached with the Players Association, “both that it’s safe to come back to work and [that they will] work out the economic issues that need to be resolved.”
Manfred acknowledged that the league is aiming to begin regular season games in the first half of July, and that most state governors have expressed hope that MLB would be able to use facilities, initially without fans.
“But, we do have contingency plans if there was a problem in a particular market,” Manfred said. “We have contingency plans where that team could play somewhere else at least temporarily.”
Under this scenario, say a public health concern develops in the Philadelphia area. It would be hard to imagine the Phillies playing home game elsewhere, given they have played in the City of Brotherly Love since 1883. Yet, the pandemic has caused unprecedented times, and anything is a possibility.
Major League Baseball, according to Manfred, intends to take utilize frequent testing and that it has an arrangement with a Utah lab that has previously conducted its minor-league drug testing.
“We made an investment to convert them over to do the testing that we need in order to play,” Manfred said. “We have an established set of healthcare professionals that have done collections for drug testing that we’ll use for this same purpose.”
The Utah-based lab, according to the Commissioner, assured MLB it can turn around any one of its tests in 24 hours or less. “So, we feel comfortable by doing multiple tests a week and trying to minimize that turnaround time,” Manfred continued.
“We’re doing everything possible to make sure the players are safe.”
The league will not just test players, however. It will additionally conduct temperature checks and “symptom analysis” for everyone, every day.
What if a Player Tests Positive?
If a player were to test positive, experts have advised MLB that it does not need to require a 14-day quarantine, for the individual or team as a whole.
“What we will do is the positive individual will be removed from the rest of the group,” Manfred said. “There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility and in each city, and then we’ll do contact tracing for the individuals that we believe there was contact with, and we will do point of care testing for those individuals to minimize the likelihood that there’s been a spread.”
Manfred acknowledged that “nothing is risk-free,” but MLB is trying to “mitigate” any involved risk with frequent point-of-care testing to assure those who have had contact have not been exposed. Also, MLB will “remove those individuals that have a positive test” and they will be “quarantined until they have two negative tests over a 24-hour period.”
No Season Would be Costly
While Manfred expressed optimism some form of a 2020 season would occur, he did touch on the consequences if no games were to be played. He described the economic effects as being “devastating” for the clubs in such a scenario.
“We’re a big business, but we’re a seasonal business,” he said. “Unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of a low point for us in terms of revenue. We hadn’t quite started our season yet, and if we don’t play a season, the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”
People Need Baseball
The absence of MLB is felt largely in that at least one game or another is played on an everyday basis, from late March through October. Now, we have gone nearly two months without what should have been regular season baseball.
“It’s an everyday game, and because our fans interact with it every day, I think it’s something they miss,” Manfred said. “For example, playing in empty stadiums is not a great feel for us economically, but our owners are committed to doing that because they feel it’s important that the game be back on the field and that the game be a sign of a beginning to return to normalcy, to American life the way we’ve always enjoyed it.”
The Commissioner is right. We need baseball now, more than ever. Hopefully we see the Phillies take the field, as long as it is safe, sooner than later.