The sun sets on Coors Field as the Colorado Rockies play the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks went on to win the game, 9-4. Photo: Paige Johnson

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The great American sport of baseball announced a return to play on Tuesday. But like all other events in 2020, plans for a shortened season are not without challenges. 

After three months of contentious negotiations between the league, the players union, and team owners, Major League Baseball announced a return by July 24. When baseball first called the season off on March 12 during spring training, they hoped to return by May or July 4 at the latest. Continued disagreements about player pay and safety pushed the season back until Tuesday, when league commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally announced a return to play. Teams will only play 60 of the usual 162 games in the regular season and will play against regional teams. The playoffs are set to begin after September 27, with limited travel.

The announcement comes as major stars and staff tested positive for COVID-19 after spring training. The MLB released a 101-page operations manual to help avoid infections, which included requiring some players to sit in the empty stands instead of the close-quarter dugouts. However, the manual does not address pay and service time for players “who wish to opt out due to a high-risk family member.”

Many once-sold-out stadiums can now expect zero fans in attendance in order to protect players and social distancing. Mascots are allowed to spread team spirit to empty stands, although the Rangers and Astros could allow fans in the stands due to Texas’ current guidelines permitting 50% capacity in ballparks. Some fans are critical of the plan for the season, citing concerns that it could be unfair. Some fans point to the Washington Nationals, who were unlikely winners of the 2019 World Series early on, but the remainder of the season provided a definitive time for the team to clinch the series.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

AP Interview: Manfred: `We owe it to our fans to be better’ – Associated Press – 6/24/2020
Vitriol rose in baseball’s worst infighting since the 7 1/2-month strike of 1994-95 wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades. The union rejected the last proposal for a financial agreement, then finished protocols to play in the pandemic on Tuesday and promised players will start reporting July 1 for a 60-game season scheduled to start July 23 or 24, MLB’s briefest since 1878.

Baseball’s Back, but the Ugly Road to Return Has Diminished the Game – Bleacher Report – 6/25/2020
As a result, the importance of each game for what amounts to the entire season will be magnified tremendously: Each game will carry the significance of nearly three in usual circumstances (2.7 to be exact). Meaning, if there are six scheduled games each week, every club’s weekly schedule will carry the weight of 16 games in a normal season. A sense of urgency will be there from the first pitch.

Johnny Damon on MLB’s coronavirus-impacted 60-game season: ‘I just hope everything stays on track’ – Fox News – 6/25/2020
“And I just hope everything stays on track because I know there’s more positive cases that are going to keep popping up,” Damon added. “I just hope that people don’t keep getting scared of it, and I guess I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t take a step back from all the hard work that the American people have done.” The two-time All-Star told Rosenthal that players contracting coronavirus during the shortened season — which is scheduled to start in late July — is “going to happen.”

Sports Are Ready to Return. The Coronavirus Has Other Ideas. – The Daily Beast – 6/24/2020
Reality is starting to poke its head out of the sand, putting the lie to the hope that sports would triumphantly come storming back to life free from further interruptions. Five MLB teams have had players test positive, causing MLB to put an end to spring training in Florida and Arizona. Dozens of college athletes from Clemson, Florida, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas State, LSU, Texas, Wisconsin, and many more colleges and universities contracted COVID-19 after participating in voluntary workouts.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Sports Illustrated on Twitter, 6/25/2020: For a lot of reasons, MLB needs to make viewing options free, lift blackout restrictions for 2020

SABR on Twitter, 6/25/2020: In new #SABR Research Journal, Brian Marshall takes a deep dive into Roger Maris’ record-setting 61 home runs and the controversy about the length of the @MLB schedule in 1961

Pat McAfee on Twitter, 6/25/2020: On the DH.. “That is a huge victory for the union.. I’m not sure that will exist again after 2021 because if it were that means the players are going to have to give up something else” @DavidPSamson on @MLB’s return to play and labor agreement #PatMcAfeeShowLIVE

Slate on Twitter, 6/25/2020: Potential rule changes will either seem intriguing or heresy, if you’re George Will or something.

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