The 2020 Major League Baseball season got off to a thrilling start this past weekend. Many games were exciting. Series matchups were dramatic. Television coverage was comprehensive and interesting.
Wagering was even more of a bonanza, as legal sports betting operations in many outlets throughout North America and offshore took in record numbers of bets on baseball. New Jersey reportedly smashed previous numbers for wagering on regular season games.
However, the party might be over when it's just begun.
Monday's stunning announcement that 14 players, coaches, and staff on the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID sent shock waves throughout the sports world.
Baseball now must grapple with losing what is essential – competitive balance. Other teams and their players openly fear the virus spreading. And fans and bettors could be faced with the prospect of no games, if the season is suspended (again). A suspension of any kind likely renders 2020 unplayable given so many factors and obstacles.
According to reports, seven active players on the Marlins tested positive. Given the typical roster size, this seems like the absolute maximum number of cases that might still allow a team to function. Any more than that number, which is still dangerously high, would essentially render the ball club into what amounts to a minor league squad, in terms of talent and experience. How can the Marlins, and other teams possibly hit by COVID, be competitive if a quarter of the team is under a two-week mandatory quarantine?
This doesn't even address internal fears and distractions, which makes travel and the routine of playing games seem like a dangerous exercise.
It does seem we're perhaps one more outbreak away from pulling the plug entirely. Defending world champioin Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez expressed what is likely the view of many baseball professionals when he stated on Monday:
"I'm going to be honest with you, I'm scared....This is my family, you know, and I worry about these guys. I worry about everybody around us. I don't want anybody to get sick."
To the credit of Major League Baseball, they've tried. It's been a noble effort. A lengthy list of protocols was put into place, and followed – though there's now some controversy about the Marlins playing Sunday's game with knowledge some team members were infected. Baseball has banned spectators and tried to adhere to social distancing guidelines. However, these well-intended steps might not be nearly enough.
The prospects for completing another ten weeks of baseball, followed by playoffs and a World Series now seems like a real longshot. Given that one team might be seriously impaired or out of action, we're down to no cards left to play if the COVID crisis worsens. Major League Soccer decided to play an abbreviated season (actually a tournament) without a full slate of teams. It's not clear if baseball could (or should) even attempt to do the same.
"Play ball" might become a just memory and a dream.
Headline Photo Credit: Windsor Star