Nationals LHP Sean Doolittle has some questions for the league before he’s ready to sign off on the agreement to start the 2020 MLB season
Major League Baseball took a step closer to starting its 2020 season on Monday, reaching an agreement with club owners on a comprehensive plan to present to the players. Not so fast, though, says Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle.
The outspoken Doolittle made a long, impassioned plea over social media for the league to address several issues before the agreement is approved by the Players’ Association. Most notably, he wants to know how the league will protect the players, and others around the game, from COVID-19, how often they will be tested, and what will happen if someone tests positive.
“So how many tests do we need to safely play during a pandemic? And not just tests for players,” Doolittle wrote. “Baseball requires a massive workforce besides the players; coaches, clubhouse staff, security, grounds crews, umpires, gameday stadium staff, TV & media…we need to protect everyone.”
“Hopefully these concerns will be addressed in MLB’s proposal, first and foremost: 1) what’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests? 2) what’s the protocol if a player, staff member, or worker contracts the virus?”
Doolittle uses the word “ethically” because the league acquiring thousands of tests that are needed elsewhere would be a public relations disaster. He also points to the fact that so much about COVID-19 remains unknown, including long-term effects on the lungs even among people who don’t develop symptoms.
But Doolittle is also adamant about something else: the players want to play. People with pre-existing conditions seem to be most susceptible to COVID-19, but three players with Type 1 diabetes—Scott Alexander, Adam Duvall, and Jordan Hicks—told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal on Monday they’re willing to play. So did Carlos Carrasco, who came back from leukemia last year, and Kenley Jansen, who’s had two heart procedures.
How many tests, and how often they are administered, remains a key point. The UFC became the first major American sports organization to stage an event in nearly two months on Saturday. Prior to UFC 249, they conducted 1,200 tests and immediately pulled a fighter who tested positive from his fight but didn’t cancel the event. Baseball would require significantly more tests over a longer period of time.
The agreement approved by the owners contains several items that would drastically alter how the game is played.
The season would begin in early July with around 82 games. Clubs would play only in their geographic area. The postseason will be expanded from 10 teams to 14, while the designated hitter will be introduced in the National League. League revenues will be split 50-50 between players and owners, an issue that is common in other leagues but a significant area of contention in prior baseball labor negotiations and seems set to be once again. Finally, clubs will be allowed to play in their home ballparks unless they’re unable to obtain government approval. For example, with the U.S.-Canadian border closed indefinitely, the Toronto Blue Jays will likely have to relocate to their Spring Training facility in Dunedin, Florida.
All that remains for baseball to return in 2020 is for the Players Association to sign off on the deal. The league plans to submit the deal for approval by Monday night. But if Doolittle speaks for his fellow players, there are still issues to be worked out.
“We want to play. And we want everyone to stay safe,” Doolittle said, a balancing act the league must figure out.