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Owners to present players proposal to mitigate coronavirus risk

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Can you play baseball without high-fives or spitting?

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New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

As businesses around the country begin to re-open, MLB owners are preparing their own plans to being their regular season by early July. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, they are preparing a nearly 100-page document outlining safety measures the game will take to mitigate the risk of players contracting the coronavirus when play resumes that will include no high-fives or spitting, no interactions with fans, with players discouraged from using personal ride services like Uber and Lyft.

The bulk of the safety protocols rely on consistent testing of players and personnel, according to a more detailed report from Wall Street Journal reporter Jared Diamond. How often they will be tested has yet to determined, but Diamond reports it will be “more often than weekly, but less often than daily.” Results would be available in less than 24 hours, with tests that have a quicker turnaround used for any players or personnel with symptoms or who had contact with someone who tested positive.

This would require thousands of tests per week, so MLB is partnering with The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory to provide the testing it needs. According to Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated, MLB feels that this partnership will allow it to receive the amount of tests it needs without taking away from the rest of the public, and in fact it would be a “net gain to public testing.” The Utah-based lab had been working to combat performance enhanced drugs in sports, but had recently turned its efforts to the coronavirus.

Baseball would not shut down if a player or staff member tested positive, rather the person would be removed, with close monitoring of those having had contact with that person but asymptomatic. Players would also be subject to daily temperature checks, and social distancing measures will be implemented on the field and in the clubhouse. MLB is also looking for ways to allow those at-risk to opt out. Some MLB players have underlying medical conditions that could put them at risk, like Royals reliever Tim Hill, a cancer survivor, not to mention older coaches and support staff.

The measures seek not to keep baseball completely free of the coronavirus, but to mitigate the risk of spread. As Diamond writes:

Under baseball’s suggested strategy, the apparent goal is to be able to quickly spot and interrupt any contagion, thereby mitigating how many people get sick, not to prevent any single one of them from getting the virus while at work.

Baseball’s proposals reflect a realization that other industries have been confronting: The measures required to eliminate all possibility of an employee testing positive for the virus are proving impossible to implement.

The KBO in Korea has resumed play with similar protocols in place, including daily temperature checks and regular testing. The CPBL in Taiwan has even begun letting a limited number of fans into games, something MLB does not seem to anticipate any time soon. Both South Korea and Taiwan. South Korea has had nearly 11,00 cases and 260 deaths for a country with a population of over 50 million and Taiwan has had just 440 cases with seven deaths for a country with a population of 23 million, with both having a sharp decline in the number of new cases. The United States is still experiencing around 20,000 new cases per day, with over a 1,000 deaths per day, although those numbers are down from their peak a few weeks ago.

Team travel would be limited, with each team playing each divisional opponent 13 times with six interleague games each against the corresponding division in the opposite league. Baseball has been working with public officials at the CDC on their safety measures. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a noted baseball fan, said back in April that it was possible for baseball to return this summer.

You know, I want to see them play again. But there’s a way of doing that because there have been some proposals both at the level of the NFL, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, to get these people tested, and to put them in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.

Owners would need player approval of the safety measures, as well as a proposed change to compensation due to a lack of gate revenues from fans. Players have already been outspoken about a further cut in pay, arguing they have already agreed to a 50 percent wage cut due to the truncated season. Rays pitcher Blake Snell has said he will refuse to play under further cuts, and Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer called the proposal “laughable.”

There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome, but baseball seems to be preparing for a return. The game may look much different, but hopefully these measures ensure player safety and allow everyone back on the field.