COVID-19 Roundup: MLB Organizes Health Protocols for 2020 Season

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MLB’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines Laid Out In 67-Page Document

On Saturday, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic obtained a lengthy document that meticulously outlines the health and safety measures MLB considers key to holding a 2020 season. Those protocols cover everything from how the game will be played on the field to what the behavior of players and essential team employees should look like away from the ballpark, and serve as yet another glimpse into just how physically and mentally challenging it will be to play baseball in the middle of a global pandemic.

One can read the details of the proposal as a bulleted list in Rosenthal and Drellich’s report, or absorb them in the day-in-the-life example Jeff Passan worked out at ESPN. Both reports paint an image of baseball in 2020 in which the reminders of what’s currently happening in the world are constant, unrelenting, and bleak. During games, non-playing personnel must wear masks in the dugout and may be relegated to the stadium seats, where they must sit at least four seats apart from and two rows behind each other. Once a baseball has been put in play and touched by multiple players, it’ll be tossed aside and replaced with a new one. Between pitches, players are encouraged to be as distanced from one another as possible.

The lives of players and other employees off the field will involve many of the restrictions and protocols that have been speculated about over the last few weeks. Everyone is strongly encouraged to leave their hotel rooms as little as possible, and avoid using taxis or rideshare services when they must travel. Players must take a temperature check every day when they wake up, and again when they arrive at the stadium — if it’s over 100 degrees, they will immediately be sent into isolation and administered a COVID-19 test. Tests will be conducted on all personnel regularly, and occasionally, blood tests will be taken to determine the presence of coronavirus antibodies.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see such an exhaustive list of protocols being laid out with the assistance of health professionals. If followed, these steps seem like a good way to keep people safe. But as much depth as there is to this plan, there are still unanswered questions regarding just how MLB would enforce these policies. It also does little to quell fears that the number of tests needed to execute this plan would come at the expense of healthcare workers and sick individuals outside the sport, despite MLB assurances that the lab in question will also offer free testing to healthcare workers and first responders in team cities. And the burden players are undertaking is immense, both in terms of the potential risk to their health and the changes to their lives, making the issue of their compensation that much more serious, which brings us to another piece of news from the weekend…

MLB Claims A $4 Billion Loss If Players Earn Prorated Salaries During Season Without Fans

That’s according to an exclusive report published by Ronald Blum of the Associated Press on Saturday, and comes from a presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players union, in an effort to convince players to take a 50-50 revenue split instead of the prorated salary agreement the two sides agreed upon in March.

According to the AP’s report, MLB is claiming losses of $640,000 for every game played without fans in 2020 under the current salary agreement, because of the loss of gate revenues. As you might suspect, though, those numbers appear incomplete once you begin digging into them. My colleague Craig Edwards came up with a very different picture of MLB’s financial situation this morning, and Baseball Prospectus’ Rob Mains characterized MLB’s numbers as “sloppy, ignorant, and/or deceptive” in his own story. Both of those pieces are well worth your time, so I’ll let them explain some of the grittier money details instead of digging into them here.

NASCAR, Golf Return To Live Sports Broadcasts

NASCAR and golf returned to TV on Sunday, as Americans got some of their first looks at mid-pandemic domestic live sports broadcasts. NASCAR’s two-month hiatus ended at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, with Kevin Harvick winning in a race held without fans and essential staff wearing masks. At Seminole Golf Club, meanwhile, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson played against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a small match-play event held to raise money for COVID-19 relief. McIlroy and Johnson were the winners on 11 of 18 holes, and the competition raised $1.85 million for the American Nurses Foundation.

SaberSeminar Is Cancelled Because of Pandemic

The news was announced via Twitter on Monday morning.

Former MLB player, manager Art Howe is released from hospital

Howe, 73, has been released from the hospital following a say in intensive care because of COVID-19 complications.

“Relief, back in my own bedroom. It’s just sweet,” Howe said in an AP report. “It was a long five days or so. I’m finally feeling a little bit better. Still not able to eat real good, taste buds are giving me a hard time. It’s just nice to be back home and hopefully continue to progress.”

Early Progress Being Made In COVID-19 Vaccine

A Phase 1 clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, a bio-tech company, have yielded positive results, according to reports. The FDA has approved a Phase 2 trial by the company, which would expand the study to several hundred people, with a Phase 3 trial to follow in the summer if the next is successful.

According to the study’s chief medical officer, if there are no setbacks, a publicly available vaccine could be ready as early as January.

Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.

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Jetsy Extrano
Jetsy Extrano

Craig Calcaterra’s assessment of the plan:
Like keeping crowds out of bars, these protocols seem almost impossible to implement and enforce.

The plan doesn’t seem workable and, if they press on despite its unworkability, they’ll simply ignore the plan in practice