Blue Jays: One 2020 Summer Baseball Scenario

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 09: A couple of Toronto Blue Jays fans walk down the steep stairs in the upper deck during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rogers Centre on June 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 09: A couple of Toronto Blue Jays fans walk down the steep stairs in the upper deck during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rogers Centre on June 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /

MLB is said to be examining a number of possible scenarios under which a 2020 season of some length might be possible.  Here is one such scenario.

Multiple things would have to go right for there to be a 2020 MLB season, of whatever length.  Here is one such scenario.

The caveat

Scenario analysis is a decision-making tool that facilitates analyzing future events by considering alternative possible outcomes (sometimes called “alternative worlds”). Thus, scenario analysis, which is one of the main forms of projection, does not try to show one exact picture of the future.  As such, the process is less about identifying the one “correct” scenario and more about looking at the future under different sets of assumptions.  The scenario I put forward in this article is accordingly only one possible outcome – hopefully logical, and based on plausible assumptions – in a multitude of alternate worlds.

The assumptions

This scenario is based to two major assumptions:

  1. Many countries and pharmaceutical companies are working on tests to identify Covid-19 antibodies in individuals who have had the disease and fully recovered.  Current thinking is that once a person has Covid-19 and fully recovers, they can not get it again (at least, not until considerable time has passed).  This scenario assumes that by some point, the bugs in these tests have been ironed out and that it is possible to identify people who have had Covid-19, recovered, and who now have the right kind of antibodies and are therefore both immune and unable to pass the disease on to others.  Call them “Immunes
  2. Companies have been working non-stop to develop and manufacture equipment that can quickly and accurately test people for current Covid-19 infection.  The most recent machines can do an accurate test in 15 minutes, and can do ~500 tests a day.  This scenario assumes that, at some point, enough testing machines are available that all hospitals and other priority users have what they need and regular businesses (such as hotels) can buy machines of their own.  These hotels are desperate to stay in business, and (in my scenario) Covid is still a serious issue, so the hotels develop a new pandemic business model.  With these machines and using only Immunes as staff, these hotels establish “Covid free zones” where all guests are tested before they enter.  As a result, once inside guests no longer need to practice social distancing (though of course they can if they choose).

The plan

In my scenario, MLB picks 5-6 ballparks to be the “safe parks”.  Let’s say for purposes of this illustration that the Rogers Centre is one of those parks.  They then find sufficient Immunes to staff the park, on a no-spectators basis.  So the cameramen, cleaners, grounds crew, etc are all Covid-safe.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

For each of these parks, MLB picks a “Covid free zone” hotel (as in two above).  Say, in my example, that they pick the Toronto Marriott (previously the Skydome Hotel) as it is directly connected to the stadium.

They then have (say) six teams travel to Toronto and all stay at the hotel.  Every player, coach and other employee is tested for active Covid before they enter the hotel (just like any other hotel guest).  If any player tests positive, they are sent for treatment and they are ineligible to play.   Similarly, any coach or other employee who tests positive is sent for medical care.  Capacity should not be an issue – in my example, the Toronto Mariott has 358 rooms, which is more than enough for all six teams.

Every day, there are 2-3 games held in the Rogers Centre.  So Team A might play Team B in the morning, C vs D in the afternoon and E vs F in the evening.  Teams play a 4-game series, much like they do now,  so A plays B for four games, then perhaps A plays C for four, then A plays D for four, and so on.  With six teams each playing each other four times, that is 20 games per team before the six teams need to be refreshed – which cuts down on travel.  Each team would be designated as the “home team” for one-half of the games played.

When the players are not playing, they stay in the hotel as much as possible.  But because the hotel is a Covid-free “bubble”, a strict program of social distancing is not necessary.  They could even use the exercise room, or the bar.  Players would have the option of having their families stay with them at the hotel, but (a) the family members would have to be tested in the same way as all other hotel guests and (b) the family members would also be asked to not leave the hotel, and would be re-tested if they do.

If the new testing machine is reasonably simple and quick (like a finger-prick), it should be possible to test every player and staff member on a regular basis (perhaps even daily?). This would hopefully detect any breakdown in controls before it became critical.   Any good control system should have a combination of preventative and detective controls.

There might not be enough Immune umpires and trained MLB camera-people to man 30 parks, but it might be possible (by drawing on resources from all MLB cities) to find enough to man 5-6 stadia.  And if a team needed stadium staff for non-specialized tasks – like sweeping the floors or cooking hot dogs – it might be possible to draw on Immunes in the community who have no meaningful skills whatever (like baseball blog writers) and who are therefore not needed in higher priority areas (like hospitals).

So on a typical day, a player might wake up, have breakfast with his wife and kids, then travel directly to the locker room for his 10:00 am game.  Everyone he comes into contact with in the hotel and the park is an Immune or has checked negative for Covid, so his risk is minimal (remember, this assumes no fans – the park is empty).  After the game, he might come back to the hotel to work out in the gym (or stay in the Rogers Centre to work out there), attend a team meeting, or to study video.  If he or his family needs something, the hotel has messengers.  If the player *has* to leave, he is re-tested when he re-enters the hotel.  Meanwhile, the second game (with two different teams) might start at 3:00, and the third game at 8:00.  Some days might have a lighter schedule (or no schedule at all), to give teams a chance to practice or to rest.

Given this tight schedule, it might be necessary to limit game duration.  Possibly by saying that a game that is tied after four hours ends in a tie?

At the end of this 20-game segment, some of the teams travel to different cities and a new segment begins.  So Teams A and B might remain in Toronto, and be joined by teams M, N, O and P.

This scenario could be implemented with many variations.  Perhaps the 5-6 “safe” parks are in Florida or Arizona, rather than actual MLB cities?  Or, if by that point safe travel is not an issue, perhaps there only need to be four teams resident at a time, and two games per day?  Or if hotels are not doing what I describe (for their own benefit and to stay in business, not as a special concession to MLB), could MLB find a condo building or a resort and create a Covid-free “bubble” of their own?  Maybe teams get an occasional one-week “break” to return home to their families (and are re-tested when they return)?

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The bottom line

As an old baseball philosopher once said, “it is tough to make predictions – especially about the future“.  There are many possible futures where the scenario I outline above would not make sense – most particularly, ones where my two key assumptions do not eventuate.   But hopefully this scenario – or one like it – is among the many being considered by MLB, and they are undertaking what preliminary research can be done at this early stage.  A 2020 season will almost certainly require out-of-the-box thinking of some kind.