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Why the MLB “Arizona Plan” won’t work

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Anxious to salvage some portion of their 2020 season, Major League Baseball has floated the possibility of putting all 30 teams in a desert bubble.

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

As we near four weeks without professional sports in America (and most of the world), many leagues are grasping at any ideas that could allow them to start and/or finish their seasons. With the coronavirus pandemic reaching its peak in America within a few weeks, the CDC has recommended the cancellation of all gatherings of 50+ people for at least eight weeks. UFC president Dana White has reportedly secured a private U.S. island to host UFC 249 on April 18, the NBA is considering playing the postseason in Las Vegas, and some NHL sources have said that the NHL might put the playoffs in North Dakota.

But the most recent plan by Major League Baseball seems to be the only proposal that has been backed by federal health officials. The plan calls for every game to be played at Arizona spring training parks, as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home of Chase Field, which could reportedly host triple-headers under its climate-controlled roof.

Players, coaches, umpires, and other essential staff could possibly report as early as May, and would be sequestered in local hotels, virtually isolated in a “bubble city.” Players and staff would only be allowed to leave their hotels to travel to their stadiums. All of the stadiums are within roughly 50 miles of each other.

My 10-year-old self would have dreamed of a baseball-only city...but the reality of the situation is much more dystopian.

Every corner of society has been forced to adapt to the novel, highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As of right now, families of players and staff would not be allowed to go to Arizona during the season. That means that for up to 4 ½ months, players wouldn’t be allowed to be with their wives, parents, or children. Although many players have approved of this, there are some that may be more reluctant to leave their families—especially during such a tumultuous time such as this. Even for players accustomed to going long periods without seeing their families, this will take on a whole new level. We have seen players take time away from their team in events such as a death in the family, a new baby on the way, and other personal matters. But that would be impossible during this quarantined season.

Let’s take Mike Trout for example. ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted on Tuesday morning that Trout and his wife are expecting a baby later this August. Will he be allowed to leave the Phoenix area to be with her for the delivery? If he is, will he be able to immediately begin playing again once he returns to Phoenix, or will he be quarantined for the standard two weeks? The Angels—and the rest of the baseball world—would be deprived of their brightest star for a significant chunk of the schedule.

Speaking of players missing time, injuries will certainly be something to consider. Most minor ailments can be taken care of by the personal team doctors. However, surgeries are usually outsourced to independent practitioners. The US Surgeon General stated back in March that he recommends all hospitals stop elective surgeries. This is, of course, a measure taken to prioritize the increasing number of Americans who need potential life-saving procedures.

Certainly, you can consider Tommy John surgery or knee reconstruction essential to extending a baseball career. But those are from injuries that could mostly be avoided by not playing in games. Some injuries are part of life, and can happen at any moment, while others are not. For example, in 2019, Andrew McCutchen blew out his knee and needed his ACL reconstructed. That is an injury that certainly does not happen unless it is during physical activity, such as a baseball game. In other words, it is an injury that could have been avoided. With a limited amount of hospital bed space in America, it would not be wise to risk injury that could deprive coronavirus patients of assistance.

Here’s how Stanford professor of medicine and biomedical ethics David Magnus summarized the predicament to Sports Illustrated at the end of March:

“Even in areas where there have been no reported cases, or very few, and it hasn’t spread yet, that’s changing by the hour. Maybe right at this moment, they don’t need the space, or the personnel that would be involved in the procedure, but that can change so rapidly that I think it would be an irresponsible use of resources. Nobody should be doing this.”

Then of course there is the avoidance of having a player or staff member test positive. When NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, the game between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder was immediately cancelled. Minutes later, the NBA suspended all games until further notice.

In order to avoid this happening to Major League Baseball, they would need to test all players, coaches, staff, and broadcast crew before every single game. With new tests that can deliver results in a matter of minutes, this actually sounds like an effective way of keeping everything sterile. But an MLB game requires much more than just the 26 players on each team’s roster—it’s also the 10 or so members of the coaching staff, four umpires, and a couple dozen broadcast crew members. Roughly 100 people in total are needed at each game. If MLB plays 15 games every day, that is 1,500 tests every single day being given out.

As of April 7, there are still too many Americans not being tested despite showing moderate to severe symptoms of the coronavirus. The U.S. government and other health officials have already been scrutinized by the general public for being able to test NBA players and other celebrities despite even showing symptoms. Although it’s great that they’re able to get tested, the first priority should be testing and caring for those that are actively showing symptoms.

Unfortunately, as creative as this idea is, it doesn’t seem practical enough to work, especially since baseball is not technically considered an “essential” part of society at the moment. We all miss baseball, and we all want it back to distract ourselves from the harshness of reality. Baseball will certainly be a part of the healing process for America eventually, but not yet. Not at the expense of our favorite players, or our healthcare system.