The Arizona Plan: Will the MLB Return?

Major League Baseball (MLB) had just begun spring training when the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing it to suspend all operations until further notice; however, its unique position, in that its regular season has not yet started, leaves it flexible to altering that season in a way that allows it to function under current quarantine, social distancing, and shelter-in-place orders.

Major League Baseball (MLB) had just begun spring training when the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing it to suspend all operations until further notice; however, its unique position, in that its regular season has not yet started, leaves it flexible to altering that season in a way that allows it to function under current quarantine, social distancing, and shelter-in-place orders. While there are still logistics to be worked out, the most developed of those scenarios is currently the Arizona Plan: a proposed "biodome" that would house players, staff, trainers, and other necessary employees for all 30 Major League teams at otherwise empty hotels in Phoenix, Arizona, with weekly virus testing and isolation of positive testers. After a two week quarantine period to start, teams would play at one of the ten spring training fields owned by the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as other minor league arenas in the area, only being shuttled between the stadiums and their hotels with zero contact to the outside world. They would also be under heavy surveillance to ensure they do not leave the protected area. The season would likely be shortened from 162 games to a number closer to 100, culminating in a November playoff series. At its bare bones, it sounds like something in between a labor camp and a pipe dream-but it may be the only way to save the season, and some players are willing to take the risk.

In order to make up for sick players, heat exhaustion, possible double-headers, and the lack of spring training, teams would have to dramatically increase their rosters, particularly the pitching staff, which means calling up hordes of players from the minor leagues. A regular MLB Roster is 26 players, (raised from 25 just this year) but the Arizona Plan could raise that number to 50. Even without fans, the MLB will continue to profit from national TV deals, advertising, and merchandise sales if they return to play, but the minor leagues rely almost exclusively on ticket sales and in-stadium sales to finance operations. Increasing the roster size of the Major League teams will help take some of the financial strain off minor league payrolls, particularly the triple-A teams, with a domino effect through the lower levels.

Despite the attraction of being able to play baseball again, the Arizona Plan raises some red flags. One of them being players spending extended periods of time away from their families, which is especially difficult for young parents and newlyweds. Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, one of the most recognizable faces in the league, has spoken out about how the Arizona Plan could significantly disrupt his life: "My wife is pregnant, what am I going to do when she goes into labor-am I going to have to quarantine for two weeks after I come back? Obviously I can't miss the birth of our first child." On the other hand, younger players who have more to lose in terms of salary guarantees, or those due to become free agents or the minor league players who might get an unlikely shot at the big leagues, are in favor of the plan.

Furthermore, another perspective overlooked by many is that if the MLB returns this summer, that would mean a potential monopoly on the professional sports world. MLB's overall attendance is down 7 percent since 2015, with a massive 5.62 percent drop from 2017-2019 according to Forbes. During the 2019 season, for the first time in 15 years, total attendance was below 70 million. An All-Star infielder expressed his concern about the MLB sacrificing the safety and comfort of its players to capitalize on the absence of other live sports and profit from the heightened cable ratings. "I was worried about baseball being in a position with waning interest in the game, and this being kind of a unique opportunity to present itself as the only sport that is able to be watched. A game looking to draw attention, [they might be thinking], 'If we can give them anything, we should.' But are you gonna put people at risk just so you can be kings of the sports world for a couple of months?"

While many fans would love to see the players back in action, there are flaws with the Arizona Plan. It is harsh on the players for the MLB to expect their players to agree to absolute isolation under the oppressive Arizona heat without any of their family members or loved ones. At the very least, the MLB should offer some sort of compromise, such as allowing players the option of sacrificing some of their pay to financially support hosting their own families. Having that option on the table is better than no option at all, even if the option does heavily favor high-caliber players with greater earnings. One of the biggest flaws in the plan is that the U.S. is not even close to where it expected to be in terms of access to virus and antibody testing. The Arizona Plan requires every person in the biodome to be tested on a weekly or biweekly basis, which is simply impossible at the moment due to the lack of tests in general, and the inevitable mass of accusations that the MLB is stealing tests from people in greater need. On the other hand, a return to baseball would greatly boost national morale, giving the country hope of not only their other favorite sports returning but hope for a return to normalcy in general. Both the MLB and the MLB Players Union need to seriously consider what is most important to them, and find a way to balance the desires of players and fans alike if there is even a hope of a first-pitch being thrown in 2020.

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