The Blue Jays have been denied permission to play their home games in PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They might end up playing all 60 games in the other team’s stadium. Would that be so bad?
Clearly, in an ideal world the Blue Jays would have been able to play their home games in Toronto. The Canadian government did not permit that (for good and valid reasons). So the Jays are now working with various second-best options. One such option that has received considerable comment is the idea of the Jays playing all of their games “on the road” – that is, in the stadia of the other teams.
What would the implications of that be?
The greatest rule-related advantage for the home team in baseball is that they bat in the bottom of each inning. So, in the bottom of the ninth, they know how many runs are required to win and can strategize accordingly. It would be easy to give the Jays this advantage, even in a different stadium.
There are other crowd-related advantages, such as noise and fan interference, but those should be largely eliminated in 2020 with the lack of spectators.
It could be argued that playing home games in (say) Yankee Stadium favours the Yanks, in that they get to sleep at home and they know the stadium better. But the Blue Jays should know at least the AL East parks by now – and if they were playing their home games in (say) Pittsburgh, they would be unfamiliar with that park too. And the home field advantage has historically not been as large in baseball as it has been in other sports, with home teams only winning 54% of the time (and that is even *with* fans).
Impact on comfort
If the Jays were to share another stadium, it is likely that they would not be permitted to use the real “home team”s locker facilities. Instead, a separate temporary locker room would be created for them – either in another part of the stadium or in a nearby hotel. This would almost certainly be less complete and convenient than the actual visitor’s clubhouse, which would be available if the Jays were the “visiting home team”.
In terms of living space, as the Blue Jays would not be playing in Toronto they would be living for the full season in hotels in any event. The only difference would be the number of days between trips.
Impacts on travel – Blue Jays and opponents
If the Jays had a home field, and played all their games there, they would have to travel a total of 15 times (not including the Boston exhibition games) based on the 2020 schedule.
If they instead did the vagabond thing – like the Marlins have done several times, for shorter periods – there would be 17 trips in total:
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Rays, July 24-26; Nats, July 27-28 and 29-30 ; then Phils, Braves, Sox, Marlins, Rays, Orioles, Rays, Sox and Orioles in August. In September, the Jays would play the Marlins and Sox, and then play the Yanks + Mets + Yanks over 11 days when they presumably would just stay in the same accommodation. Then the Phils, Yanks and Orioles to end the season. The Jays would add four trips from not having a home stadium, but would gain two from not having to travel from Washington on July 29 and not having to travel to New York on Sept 15.
An additional two trips might not be an insurmountable hardship, particularly when you consider the geographic proximity. As for example – the Blue Jays’ series on August 11 and 14 against the Marlins and Rays were supposed to be home games. As a vagabond team, the Jays would have to travel between those two cities. But the flight from Miami to Tampa is less than one hour, and there is a day off between series. Inconvenient? Yes. Critical? Not really.
And consider the impact on the other teams. In almost every case where the Jays play a series in the other team’s park, it saves that other team a trip. As for example – in September, the Yankees are at home from the 10th to the 17th. If they could play the Blue Jays series (7th-9th) at home too, it would save them one trip. So the two extra trips that the Jays would make over the course of the season would save the other teams in the league 5-10 trips. I appreciate that other teams’ travel is not the Blue Jays’ responsibility, but in these covid times it behooves us all to help each other.
Remember in 2011 when a Miami Marlins series against the Seattle Mariners had to be moved to Seattle (it was supposed to be a Miami home game) because of a U2 concert? I suspect that there would not be similar conflicts in 2020, with the stadia reserved for other events, given the current strict covid protocols.
The bottom line
Given the Blue Jays players strong preference to play in MLB stadia, the vagabond team option (where the Jays play every game in the other team’s stadium) is a very real possibility. In my view, it is a legitimate option, and the disadvantages (as compared to the alternatives) are both bearable and manageable.