Major League Baseball is set to begin its shortened season on July 23 after a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the NCAA and NBA both stopped play as well, the return of competition for those leagues has not been nearly as drawn out as that of the MLB.
The Major League Baseball Players Association and owners pitched scheduling ideas at one another for weeks with no resolve.
Finally, players and owners struck a deal on a 60-game season, and opening day was scheduled for July 23 and 24.
With the MLB’s return set, players reported to team facilities for testing in early July.
At the end of the first round of testing on July 10, 66 of 3,748 samples came back positive for COVID-19. Of the 66 positive results, 58 were players and eight were staff members. Overall, 27 teams reported positive test results during this initial phase. The total amount of positive players who tested positive reached 80 on Friday.
Due to the pandemic, some big name players — including David Price and Buster Posey — opted to sit out the season.
UNC history professor Matthew Andrews — who teaches a course on baseball and American history — compared the COVID-19 pandemic to other historical events that have disrupted the world of sports.
“This is reminiscent of moments of great national calamity like World War I, like the Great Depression and like World War II — baseball did continue during the Great Depression, baseball did continue during World War II — in fact, that was the power of baseball," Andrews said. "(Former MLB commissioner) Judge (Kenesaw) Landis and President (Franklin) Roosevelt, they wanted baseball to continue as a sign of normalcy. The argument being in a time of great stress, Americans need baseball, and that’s what was lacking during this great time of stress — we did not have our sports.”
With leagues across the country implementing plans to return, like the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, and the MLB's scheduled return, the number of positive tests among athletes continues to increase. Andrews said the risks associated with returning to play could outweigh the benefits.
“Baseball, I was not surprised by the numbers at all. I’m not sure if I believe any of the numbers coming from Major League Baseball or the NBA or for colleges and universities,” Andrews said. “Certainly, professional sports franchises, they have a lot of reasons not to give us the accurate numbers. But when those numbers came out, they were in the dozens.”
If a league postponed its season in March, Andrews said, then it should not resume play in July with the number of confirmed cases continuing to rise across the country.
With MLB teams set to travel across states for games, Andrews said the problem will only be exacerbated. If a player like All-Star Mike Trout tests positive for COVID-19, Andrews said it would only hurt the game.
Despite plans to resume leagues, Andrews said he is pessimistic about the eventual outcome.
“I’m a skeptic about the idea of resuming sports," Andrews said. "I’m a skeptic about certainly resuming college sports and college football, I think that’s absolute insanity. I think it’s downright dangerous and maybe even morally repugnant to put college athletes at risk like that."
But if the 60-game season is played and baseball makes it to the postseason within its scheduled time frame, Andrews said the league would be rewarded.
“We are all looking for normalcy in our lives and we’re not going to have it for a while," Andrews said. “But if baseball can be on our TV screens in October — it would be a coup for the game.”
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