Baseball’s Plan: A 60-Game Sprint With Fingers Crossed

Baseball’s Plan: A 60-Game Sprint With Fingers Crossed


There will be no asterisk for the 2020 baseball season because the year itself is an obvious outlier in every way. Whoever wins the World Series — if the season makes it that far — will overcome the challenges of a three-month sprint inside empty ballparks during a pandemic. No other champion, to be sure, will have faced those obstacles.

“The teams that lose, they’ll be the ones going, ‘Well, it’s not for real, they didn’t play 162, they didn’t have the marathon,’” Mike Stanton, a former pitcher who played in six World Series and won three with the Yankees, said on Tuesday. “But for the team that wins, it’ll be just as special as any other — and in some ways even more so, because of the trials and tribulations that everybody has gone through to get to that point.”

“This will be a year that everyone remembers,” Stanton added. “Everyone.”

Baseball, of course, will be just a small patch on 2020’s tapestry of the weird. But for a sport with such a deep and enchanting history, it will stand out as a singular phenomenon, by far the shortest season since the 1870s — before the invention of the pitcher’s mound, the catcher’s mitt and the infield fly rule.

Teams will play only 60 games, with opening day likely to be July 24. That is a week before the traditional trading deadline, when also-rans give up on the season and trade veterans to contenders for prospects.

Now, though, every team will reach late July as a contender, with a trade deadline to be determined. Think of it as forced competitive balance, when even the worst teams can dream of getting hot for nine weeks and stealing a playoff berth. Every game will count 2.7 times more than usual, infusing daily urgency to a sport in which teams often have time to coalesce.

After 60 games last season, the Washington Nationals were 27-33 — two games worse at that point than the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Nationals surged up the standings and won the World Series. The Pirates spiraled and finished in last place.

Then again, last year’s postseason field did not change much after the 60-game mark. At that point, the playoff teams would have been the Yankees, Minnesota, Houston, Tampa Bay and Texas in the American League, and Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League. Seven of those teams wound up in the postseason; only the Rangers, the Phillies and the Cubs faded.

For a while, it seemed as if this year’s postseason was destined to be like a preschooler’s birthday party, where everyone in the class gets invited. The last proposals by the players and the owners added three wild-card teams in each league, allowing more than half of all teams to take part.

Both sides agreed on that change, so why not implement it this October? Negotiating is the reason. The players believed that if Commissioner Rob Manfred was going to give them 60 games at full prorated salaries with or without an agreement, it would be foolish to give up a valuable bargaining chip by authorizing the lucrative expanded playoff package owners covet.

Rejecting the owners’ offer was a calculated gamble by the players, who turned down more money upfront for the chance to claim a lot more — perhaps $1 billion — through a grievance accusing the owners of bad-faith negotiating. The rejection meant that other proposed innovations would be shelved, too, like in-game broadcast enhancements and (thankfully) advertising on players’ uniforms.

The universal designated hitter might be retained as part of a 2020 rules package the sides must still discuss. Teams might also start extra innings with a runner on second base to spark offense and allow games to finish quicker.

  • Updated June 22, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


The schedule will be limited to divisional play, plus interleague games with teams in the corresponding geographic division. So the Yankees, for example, will play their American League East rivals Baltimore, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto, but also the National League East teams: Atlanta, Miami, the Mets, Philadelphia and Washington.

Doing so without fans will be jarring, but perhaps not for long.

“You’re playing the Red Sox, you’re at Yankee Stadium or Fenway, the place is rocking and rolling — it’s hard not to get excited in those situations,” Stanton said. “It’s going to be missed, but the passion for the game, the reason you’re playing, the competitiveness of every player — that doesn’t go away because there are no fans in the stands. The first week or two will be different, but then it’s going to be, ‘We’re just playing baseball.’”

Stanton continued: “You may have to go back to college or high school, or even prior to that, but at some point, everyone was playing with just the people on the field. I played in Atlanta when we had 1,500 people — might as well have not been anybody there — and select games around the league, same thing. There were always a few fans, but there was never any energy coming out of the stands, so it really didn’t matter all that much. They’re going to have to adapt, but I think they’ll do it quickly.”

Everything must happen quickly now as baseball dashes to the World Series while trying desperately to wall itself off from the coronavirus. That is the threat looming over players as they re-enter the work force.

As Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson put it in an ominous tweet on Monday night: “What happens when we all get it?” For all of the league’s careful planning, that is the question it cannot answer, and the one that would ruin everything.





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