Coronavirus threat jeopardizing Professional Baseball
~ Trevor Phipps ~
Last February, all Major League Baseball Teams went to training camp in Arizona and Florida and started playing games to get prepared for the 2020 season.
Little did they know that their plans would quickly change due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the season would be postponed indefinitely. This development may have served as a death notice for the future of professional baseball in the Pikes Peak region.
Locally, the Rocky Mountain Vibes have been preparing for the season all year, and they planned a slew of events that would be new to the 2020 season. The all-star game and a ninja competition are still both scheduled for late this summer if the current social distancing rules change to where large gatherings are allowed.
However, it has recently been reported by local news agencies that there is a chance that the Vibes have already played their last game due to failed negotiations between the major and minor leagues, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vibes all along have been optimistic that they would be able to play their regular season this year, since their league doesn’t start play until mid-June, which is much later than the major leagues and other minor league organizations.
The team’s general manager, Chris Phillips, told news reporters last week that they were hopeful that they would be able to play this year, but that the organization was also being realistic with their expectations. Many people think that large social gatherings could still be banned through the summer, or that a stay-at-home order could be put back in place, if the coronavirus threat spikes up again.
And, there is a chance that if the Vibes do not get to play in 2020, then they may have already played their last game at the close of the 2019 season. For the past few months, the Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) have been in negotiations, discussing whether dozens of minor league teams should receive the axe, including the Vibes, and every other team that currently plays in the Pioneer Rookie League.
At first, the MiLB negotiators fought the major leaguers ‘tooth and nail’ and expressed their desire to figure out a way to keep all current minor league teams in play. As soon as it came out that the MLB wanted to cut the teams, many politicians, including key congressional figures, spoke out against the league’s proposal. They contended that such action was un-American and would kill a great family entertainment and pastime for many smaller communities.
However, it was reported by the Washington Post last week that minor league officials may have started to back down on their stance to keep all of the teams due to the recent coronavirus pandemic. Since all sports events have been canceled nationwide, many of those smaller minor league teams are already struggling financially. This could make the MiLB decide to accept the contraction plan proposed by the major league.
One of the issues sparking the major league’s proposal is the big inequity in pay that MLB players receive, compared to minor leaguers. The MLB has been targeted by media reports that heavily criticized this gap in compensation, with many MiLB players getting hardly any compensation. In some cases, they are paid a little more than minimum wage levels for the hours they invest.
According to Phillips though, the claims are not entirely true. He said the talks are still ongoing and that no decision has yet been made.
He also said that despite whatever decision the two leagues come up with, there was still a chance that the Vibes could survive as a team and that he didn’t think that they have already played their last game. “We are going to figure out a way to keep this team here,” Phillips said. “We’re doing everything we can… At the end of the day, I would think Major League Baseball would want to grow the sport and keep teams in these cities around the country, but we’re going to have wait and see how it shakes out.”
And as far as either league goes, they have both issued statements saying that negotiations were still in the works and that nothing had been set in stone yet. The organizations issued a joint statement last Thursday that said that they would continue towards working on their goal of coming up with “a mutually beneficial long-term agreement in the near future.”
Future Of Major League Play In 2020
Last month, MLB officials made the decision to shut down spring training camp, send the players home, and cancel the 2020 season until further notice. Since then several discussions have taken place regarding how the baseball season can still occur.
A few weeks ago, ESPN reported that league officials were discussing a way that they could have the season continue by having games take place in one area without live audiences. The proposal suggested that the division could be recalculated so that the teams that have their spring training in Florida would play against each other, while and the remainder of the teams, including the Colorado Rockies, would play each other in the Arizona. The report also suggested that the league would keep the players isolated during the season and have them engage in active COVID-19 testing.
However, reports have since come out saying that dreams of having television-only baseball games are encountering much opposition. In order for the idea to work, players must be willing to play for lower wages since the teams would not be filling their pockets with dough from ticket sales.
And, the players would have to be willing to isolate themselves from their family members for the entire season to make the lower wage. Many experts think that the league may not be able to come up with an agreement with the union to play without a crowd and if they did more work and negotiations would have to be done. Other ideas that have circulated include continuing to postpone the season to a later date, shortening the season and letting it go well into November.