What Does Players Opting Out of the 2020 Season Mean for the MLB?

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Major League Baseball teams have returned to camp to ramp up for the 60 game salvaged season of 2020, but that doesn’t mean the issues related to COVID-19 have been forgotten and things can now return to normal.  All personnel are required to be tested frequently and to maintain social distancing.  Players are not allowed to dress or congregate in the clubhouse, and non-playing personnel (coaches, trainers and umpires) are required to wear masks at all times.  These are the realities we’ve all been forced to deal with in the face of the global pandemic.

Photo courtesy of orange county register.com

Upon returning to camp all personnel were immediately subjected to testing and required to test negative prior to beginning on-field group activities.  Several players have tested positive throughout the league, including Braves All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman.  Red Sox relievers Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor also tested positive along with one other undisclosed player, and projected Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez has remained in quarantine in Florida due to exposure he had with an infected person.

The virus is omnipresent in our lives, and baseball is no exception.  It has and will continue to dictate what can and cannot be done until either a vaccine or effective treatment is found.  The virus has already impacted team preparations for the upcoming season and it will continue to do so when/if games resume.  More players and team personnel will test positive and be lost to their teams for significant portions of the regular season.  To think otherwise is naïve, irresponsible, and ignores the realities of the situation.

On the Fourth of July, while many of us were celebrating at (hopefully) scaled down gatherings, former Red Sox and current Dodger pitcher David Price announced he had decided to opt out and not play this season.  He joined other notable players as the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, the Rockies’ Ian Desmond, and the Braves’ Felix Hernandez as notable veteran players who have decided to sit out the season over concerns for themselves or their family contracting the virus.  On Monday, Braves outfielder Nick Markakis joined the list, citing his reaction to the news of Freeman testing positive.

Two other marquee players, the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Giants’ Buster Posey, have also openly questioned if they will ultimately play this season.  Trout is the best player in today’s game, and his absence will be severely felt if he decides to sit out the season, not just by the Angels and their fans, but by a sport in desperate need of marketing the game’s superstar talent.

Of course, it is within the player’s right to do what he ultimately decides is in the best interest for himself and his family with respect to safety.  In the cases of Trout and Desmond, concerns for a pregnant wife and a desire to not be separated at such an important time are certainly valid and understandable.  This is an option these players have to choose from because they have made tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars over their careers and can easily afford to go unpaid and ride out the storm.

Unlike the NBA, NHL and MLS, the MLB will not be operating in “bubble” cities to try to limit the exposure to the virus.  Teams will be playing on their home fields and players will be required to travel and stay in hotels for road games.  Although we in the northeast have for the moment effectively slowed the spread of the virus, there are many parts of the country in which the virus is spreading rapidly, including in the states of Florida, Texas and Arizona – home to five MLB teams.  The reluctance to visit these states or other states in which cases of the virus is expanding exponentially is understandable.

Baseball will continue if it all possible and if the virus can be prevented from decimating teams, regardless of the number of big-name players who decide to follow the leads of Price and Zimmerman and Markakis and sit out the season.  Baseball continued during World War II without players like Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio, and it will now even without David Price or Buster Posey or Mike Trout.  No one player is bigger than the game.

But what does players choosing not to play do for the perception of fans?  This is a relationship that was already strained with the ugly negotiations between the MLB owners and the MLB Player’s Association to resume play, which could have already brought baseball back to the fans but seemed to drag on over easily negotiated matters.  Now that a return to play a laughably shortened season is in sight, some of the biggest names in today’s game have decided to take a pass on the season.  Will the average Joe Sixpack have empathy for the multi-millionaire player while he takes the risks to go to work every day, if he still has a job at all?

To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about this yet.  I can understand a player wanting to protect his family, especially a pregnant wife and an unborn child.  Any father should understand that you do anything in your power to protect your family.  But I also can’t help but think this just perpetuates the perception that these players are spoiled millionaires out of touch with the common man.  This perception will be difficult to overcome for some players, and potentially impossible for others like Price, who was already far from being a fan favorite.  Can you imagine the outcry if Price was still a member of the Red Sox?

There is no right or wrong answer to this issue.  As with most things in life there are many shades of gray, and the individual must decide what is in his or her best interest.  Baseball will hopefully begin playing games at the end of July, and I will be watching no matter who is wearing the uniforms.  Whether the product on the field keeps me watching is yet to be seen.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: What Does Players Opting Out of the 2020 Season Mean for the MLB?
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