Yesterday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that broader considerations would dictate whether and when the league is able to resume play in 2020. He expressed a commitment not only to the safety of those involved directly in staging ballgames, but to relaunching “in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely.”
Whether that will be possible remains to be seen, but experts aren’t ruling out the possibility of some kind of return. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key voice on the coronavirus pandemic, addressed the potential of baseball resuming play this summer in a podcast appearance with Peter Hamby (who also wrote things up at Vanity Fair).
There’s certainly plenty of important information to digest from the interview, but we’ll focus on some of the aspects relating directly to the game of baseball. Fauci wasn’t willing to give a strong prediction as to whether we’ll see MLB and other sports this year — largely due to the vast remaining uncertainty in dealing with COVID-19. Per Fauci, the feasibility of holding sports is “really going to depend on what actually evolves over the next couple of months.”
Manfred says that Major League Baseball wants to be a key “part of the [economic] recovery … and sort of a milestone on the return to normalcy.” He has thus far backed that up with creative planning efforts (as we discussed in a recent YouTube video) and, far more importantly, with rapid engagement in a critically important study designed to assess the true spread of the disease throughout the United States.
Fauci envisioned a scenario where indeed baseball is able to launch a season by the middle of the summer — sans live fans, of course. “If you could get on television, Major League Baseball, to start July 4,” Fauci suggested, ” … Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. Particularly me. I’m living in Washington. We have the World Champion Washington Nationals. You know, I want to see them play again.”
Getting there won’t be easy. Fauci spoke of “proposals” involving gathering and isolating players and others associated with putting on the sporting event “in big hotels” near playing sites. It would be necessary to utilize such isolation with frequent testing and other efforts to “make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family.”
If that all sounds familiar, it certainly seems to dovetail with what we’ve heard from reports on MLB efforts to plan out a possible 2020 campaign. The league is known to have consulted with Fauci and other top experts. It’s an approach that carries some obvious (and probably some non-obvious) risks and limitations. But it’s at least somewhat encouraging that Fauci seems to believe it’s conceptually possible. And as he says, “it might be better than nothing.”