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How should MLB respond to COVID-19?

As the season opener gets closer, serious concerns over coronavirus are mounting.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The first impacts of COVID-19 are being felt in the baseball industry, beginning with the removal of press from the players’ clubhouses, and extending to the state of Washington cancelling public gatherings in three counties, which will force the Mariners home games to be moved out of state to start the season.

These are wise measures.

The CDC, and the powers that be are concerned about “close contact” between strangers — defined as six feet of distance or less, for ten minutes or more — as the virus can live on physical surfaces for hours at a time and appears to be highly transmissible.

Baseball is an entertainment industry, and it is a workplace. Employers must take the actions required to minimize these moments of “close contact” where possible until the risk of transmission has passed.

But that does not only extend to players, it also extends to fans. The basketball industry has begun toying with the idea of ending fan attendance across the sport:

MLB is likely to do the same. It’s just a matter of time.

With the caveat that I am merely a guy with a blog: Here are some ideas about what baseball should do to counteract COVID-19’s impact on the game — should it continue to be played this season.

No. 1 — Limit fan attendance or end it all together

Baseball as a form of entertainment is capable of continuing in the midst of a crisis. The element that must end is the public gatherings, which may become vectors for the disease to be transmitted.

Should local governments continue to implement a cap on public gatherings — San Francisco is limiting events to 1,000 people as their cap, Seattle to 250 people — it may be possible to allow some form of attendance, but even that may be unwise.

Instead of fighting each local municipality or state government, or seeking ways to put a meager crowd in a minor league stadium, MLB must act in the interest of their consumers and end public gatherings now, as the Warriors of the NBA already have.

No. 2 — Mic up players to balance lack of fan noise

But what will fill the gaps during the broadcast? Cavernous, empty stadiums are not conducive to entertainment.

MLB and the MLBPA should come together and negotiate for the ability to have players on the field and individually be mic’d up during games, as has been enormously popular during Spring Training games on ESPN.

No. 3 — Integrate pre- and post-game press conferences into the broadcast

MLB has already taken the reasonable step to institute press conferences in lieu of clubhouse interviews. With this formalization, these should be made part of the entertainment as well. Baseball will live and die this season on the personality of its players in addition to the action on the field. MLB should take every opportunity to allow the celebrity of the players shine.

As an entertainment industry, without fans in the ballpark, baseball is largely dependent on the level of engagement fans feel with the players.

No. 4 — Waive the 40-man roster restrictions for viral Injured List replacements

The virus is on pace to infect upwards of 50% of the world’s population based on initial expert estimates, if not more. Invariably that will include baseball players, given enough time.

For this reason, the MLB and MLBPA should come together, in the interest of the sport, and allow teams to tap into the minor league rosters as required if and when the virus comes for players.

No. 5 — Welcome the press core onto the team’s chartered flights

Team employees and spouses are allowed to travel on team flights, but rarely anyone else. In the interest of maintaining the press coverage of the sport, as travel around the US becomes more and more difficult, MLB should welcome designated members of the press to travel on team chartered flights during the season.

Press will then be limited in their exposure to the pandemic, and not be limited in their ability to find commercial flights to the team’s destination.

No. 6 — Recognize we are in this for the long haul

In all likelihood, the virus sweeping the globe cannot be contained. As of Wednesday morning the World Health Organization has officially declared it a pandemic.

While regions of China are returning to work on a 4-month delay, other countries around the world have not been capable of enacting such aggressive containment policies, which will delay the time it takes for COVID-19 to run its course. That could mean six months where the United States operates under the limitations just starting to roll out in Seattle and San Francisco.

The reasons for this are wise:

While the virus cannot be stopped, its spread can be slowed so as to not burden the health care system across the globe, and to allow those most vulnerable to take their necessary precautions.

This lengthening of the impact means the entire 2020 baseball season is in jeopardy. MLB is a slow-moving ship, but the Commissioner is the rudder who can swiftly change its course. It’s time for Rob Manfred to meet with the MLBPA and make the necessary changes to save this season, and possibly the sport itself.