Over the past couple of weeks, I've bothered my Twitter followers by asking them the same question every three days: Will MLB come back this year?
Unfortunately, that's the biggest question facing baseball -- and really, all sports -- right now. Though, it's far from the largest concern worldwide. The horrifying COVID-19 case numbers and deaths tolls make it, at least to me, feel like a major luxury to be able to think about sports.
As I wrote a little over a week ago, MLB is going to have some tough decisions to make. Should there be a season? And, if so, when is the appropriate time to start? As timing would have it, President Trump held a phone conversation with the commissioners of major American sports today, and he seemed to think that fans could be back in the seats of stadiums as soon as August. I have no idea whether that's actually possible, but I do know that at least California Governor Gavin Newsom seemed to downplay Trump's comments, saying that he "does not anticipate" that being a reality, at least within his state. Like with most of the fallout from the coronavirus, we're still in a wait-and-see pattern.
Either way, my followers have become significantly less optimistic in there being a baseball season in 2020. Here are the results.
As you can see, while more than 50% of my followers still think baseball will return, that has decreased over time, represented by a 12-point drop from just 13 days ago. For what it's worth, as of this writing, I still do think there will be a season, but I can understand the increasing pessimism across the board. When you think about all that has happened in the last two weeks, it's not hard to see why the greater population thinks this way.
Looking through recent developments in MLB specifically, I don't necessarily think we've seen drastic steps taken toward "no baseball." Rob Manfred spoke on March 25, noting that while a 162-game season was likely out of the question, he hoped to begin ramping things up at "some point in May." On March 26, MLB and the MLBPA reached a key deal outlining salary and service time issues, in the event of a shortened or canceled season.
Both owners and players expressed the desire to play as many games as possible, which shouldn't be shocking. Justin Turner, for one, seemed open to exploring creative ways to play the season in a condensed timeframe, including a home run derby to end games tied after nine innings. Along the way, MLB expanded benefits for minor league players, and teams agreed to pay employees at least through the end of April. And, Ken Rosenthal wrote today about a potential plan to play games at spring training facilities in either Arizona or Florida, but, as you'd expect, there are plenty of risks associated with such an idea.
Admittedly, none of those developments answer the overarching question. In the agreements, contingency plans were put in place in the event the season does not happen. I recognize that. However, open dialogue between MLB and the MLBPA, at least to me, is promising. It's not too big of a surprise that both the league and the players want to play, but seeing that both sides could be open to some drastic changes in order to have that happen is certainly a good sign.
Unfortunately, the larger situation has only worsened. On March 23, only one day after the first poll, there were just nine statewide stay-at-home orders. By March 30, there were 30, and as of this writing, 42 total states have followed suit. My governor, Ralph Northam of Virginia, issued the longest stay-at-home order at the time of its announcement, requiring residents to shelter in place until June 10. And while Virginia does not have any Major League Baseball teams itself, that's certainly not conducive to baseball's timeline, especially if other states follow suit in the weeks to come.
Meanwhile, case and death totals continue to climb. At the time of the first poll, there were just 33,592 cases of coronavirus reported in the United States. We nearly increased by that figure just yesterday alone, with 32,284 new cases reported on April 3. That brought us to a total of 277,161 at the end of the day. Today, we're now over 300,000.
In this time period of polls, the Olympics have been postponed, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill, and Trump extended social distancing guidelines nationwide through April 30.
But, ultimately, I don't know what will happen. And, though I do think quite highly of them, neither do my followers. Only time will tell as to whether baseball will return, but considering the life-and-death circumstances we're dealing with, does it even matter?