Scott Boras may not be able to spout off labor-related platitudes in front of a scrum of reporters due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but he’s still found a way to get his message across. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Boras argues for baseball to return as a way to help the United States heal amid the coronavirus.
Boras’ argument hinges on baseball being used to help the country overcome previous tragedies. He cites Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to make his point.
“Nearly 60 years [after Pearl Harbor], baseball again helped reassure the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the first game back in New York, 10 days after the towers fell, Mike Piazza’s home run in the eighth inning became a potent sign that our healing had begun. The very next month, we all felt the gravity of the moment as President George W. Bush walked onto the field at Yankee Stadium before the first World Series game in New York since the attacks. Alone and secretly wearing a stiff bulletproof vest, he climbed to the top of the mound and fired a strike. The pain of those we lost would never leave, and the rebuilding was only just beginning. But at that moment America, as an idea, roared back to life.”
While Boras is correct that baseball provided an emotional boost during those moments, he fails to point out how coronavirus is different than a terrorist attack or natural disaster. In those instances, the decision to restart sports was a matter of appropriateness. Had enough time passed from those tragedies that we could assume playing baseball?
That’s not the case with coronavirus, which is still a major threat in the United States. While watching sports would help people feel like life was getting back to normal, it would come with the massive risk of spreading the virus, which was not a concern in the situations Boras outlined.
Large gatherings have been discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for weeks. The CDC has recommended gatherings of 250 people be canceled. In Boras’ opinion piece, he says 1,600 people would be involved in bringing baseball back.
“Players must feel safe when they return, and they understand that they would be in a controlled environment where they could be evaluated by the medical staff each day. The numerous medical experts I have spoken to recommend clubhouses be sanitized daily, and that masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer should be standard in each one. Major League Baseball, with the understanding that the medical needs of our country’s population comes first, will need to contract with a testing company to make this all safe for approximately 1,600 players, plus coaching staffs, groundskeepers, umpires and other officials.”
It’s unclear whether Boras sees those 1,600 people gathering in one isolated area, or if he views that 1,600 being spread over multiple sites.
Boras doesn’t touch on how that number could present a major issue to the league getting restarted. It’s also unclear whether he factors in medical staff, clubhouse attendants or the people responsible for sanitizing the clubhouse every day in that number. His solution calls for a slow buildup to that figure, with players reporting at different times, but 1,600 is still a lot of people, even if you spread them over multiple sites.
There’s also the issue of completely quarantining those people from their families for a lengthy period. That’s not going to be something all players can accept. Mike Trout’s wife is due to give birth in August. Is he expected to miss that birth and spend months away from his newborn son? Trout is among the most prominent players to question that strategy. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t want to leave his family for a quarantined season either.
Should clubhouse attendants or arena staff or the people who clean the clubhouses also be kept from their families for months at a time? The issue isn’t as simple as saying, “Baseball players get paid a lot of money, so they should be willing to do it.” If you can ignore that dehumanizing argument, consider the other, less-privileged groups involved in Boras’ plan.
Until there’s a coronavirus vaccine, baseball’s return is going to carry massive risks. The league has flirted with a number of options, including a three-site plan. At the very least, that would require smaller groups to be gathered in one place at a time, which is essentially what the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) — a 10-team league — is doing.
Even if MLB gets to that point, it’s unclear how the league would react to a positive test. In all the ideas thrown around, that aspect hasn’t been mentioned. If one player tests positive, what will the league do? Will that player and his team be quarantined for two weeks? Will that shut down an entire site for two weeks? It’s easy to envision a scenario where one positive test results in another suspension of the season. There would be too many roadblocks to overcome if MLB is going to take a positive test seriously.
Boras — like many — wants MLB to return as soon as possible. Unlike many, however, Boras’ motivation is monetary. He makes more money the sooner baseball come back. Boras may see the game’s return as a way to boost morale around the country, but his desire to make money should not be ignored.
While Boras’ plan has major issues, his motivation remains significant. Despite worries about coronavirus, baseball is barreling toward a return. The league is motivated to make a season happen, and it has the backing of some politicians.
Like Boras, all of those groups are going to cite the mental boost the game would bring. They’ll talk about the way baseball has healed the country in the past, and helped the United States overcome some of its biggest tragedies.
But, also like Boras, their real interest in restarting the baseball season will be all about making money.
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