As if the already convoluted 2020 season bargaining situation needed further complication, another potential curveball was spun this evening. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times that playing baseball in the month of October may pose unwarranted risks.
Here’s the specific phrasing attributed to Fauci, who is one of the most visible authorities on the coronavirus: “If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months and end it not with the way we play the World Series, until the end of October when it’s cold. I would avoid that.”
Fauci emphasized that he wasn’t able to offer any certainties, saying that “this virus is one that keeps fooling us.” There’s obviously still quite a lot of science to be done on COVID-19.
But he made clear that he believes it likely the pandemic will worsen as the weather gets chillier. “Under most circumstances — but we don’t know for sure here — viruses do better when the weather starts to get colder and people start spending more time inside, as opposed to outside,” Fauci explains. “The community has a greater chance of getting infected.” There’d be added concern, he said, because of the potential “overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second [coronavirus] wave.”
This makes for an especially intriguing development given the ongoing grappling between the league and union over how long the 2020 season ought to extend. MLB has cited the very same concerns as Fauci now highlights in arguing against attempting play deep into the fall. But even its proposals have been premised on a typical October postseason. The player side hasn’t insisted on playing into November and beyond, telling the league of late that it’s ready to play “when and where” commissioner Rob Manfred orders. But the MLBPA position has generally been to offer up as much play as MLB wants to arrange (with full pro rata salary).
While Fauci’s viewpoints don’t represent specific constraints on the staging of ballgames, they’re sure to factor into the fraught public relations battle between ownership and labor. He has generally been supportive of resuming play, at least without fans in attendance, and has made clear he’s a big baseball fan who would love to see a 2020 campaign. It’s notable, too, that several key baseball states — Arizona, Texas, Florida, California — have already begun to exhibit worrying rises in COVID cases even at the outset of summer.