It is beginning to sound like we will have baseball this season. Nothing is written in ink, but information has poured out in recent days detailing a plan that would get the season going in the beginning of July after roughly three weeks of spring training, which was how long players trained before the start of the strike-shortened 1995 season.
The trial balloon for that model was launched this week when the KBO opened play in South Korea and we got to see former Phillie Aaron Altherr homer off former teammate Ben Lively Wednesday in a game between the NC Dinos and the Samsung Lions. The big difference between South Korea and the United States, however, is the number of coronavirus cases. The virus is all but gone in South Korea while it is still very much alive here.
“I think it’s going to happen,” one major-league executive said Wednesday. “There is still a lot to be ironed out."
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Multiple reports have said that players are being told to get ready to report for a spring training in their home ballparks that baseball officials hope begins around the middle of June with opening day slated for early July. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Wednesday that baseball will soon make a proposal to the players union about the plan.
The biggest obstacle remains the virus itself. While the number of cases is going down in New York, the hardest hit area in the country, it remains on the ascent in Massachusetts and other places across the country even as many businesses reopen. As long as that’s the case, it could be difficult to start a season with teams playing in their home ballparks, which is the most likely plan on the table. Would players agree to travel and stay in a city that is still a hot spot for the virus even if the ballparks are empty? What happens if just one player tests positive and how will the testing of players be conducted?
An agreement on what the players will be paid must also be reached and that could be complicated given that there will be no gate receipts because the season is going to be played without fans in attendance. It’s hard to imagine, however, that either the owners or players would allow this to become too much of an obstacle at a time when the country is in such a grave crisis.
Exactly how many players need to be available for a season must be figured out and how the players at the bottom of the roster remain in shape is also an obstacle since it appears as if there will be no minor-league seasons this year. Passan’s ESPN story suggested that as many as 50 players could be made available to big-league teams. As a point of reference, the Phillies used 56 players last season.
Presumably, the plan that baseball will propose to the players will be the geographic one that places the Phillies in a 10-team division with the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Orioles, Marlins, Rays, Blue Jays and either the Pirates or Braves.
Various players have said they’d like to play as many games as possible this season, but the best solution would be to play a half season -- 81 games -- and go into the playoffs in early October rather than trying to drag out the season until Thanksgiving. Why mess up next season for the sake of this season?
This season, if it happens, is going to be unlike any other and whatever extended playoff format baseball comes up with could be fun and something to think about for the future. Hopefully the obstacles still in place can be overcome, but there are no guarantees.
May 7: On this date in 2010, 47-year-old Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in history to pitch a complete-games shutout, holding Atlanta to two hits in a 7-0 Phillies win.
May 9: On this date in 1973, Johnny Bench homered three times off Phillies lefty Steve Carlton for the second time in his career.
May 10: On this date in 1967, Hank Aaron hit the only inside-the-park home run of his career off the Phillies’ Jim Bunning in Connie Mack Stadium.
In 2007, the year the Phillies won the first of five straight National League East titles, Chase Utley led the team with a .332 batting average and Aaron Rowand was second on the team with a .309 average. Only one other Phillies player that has qualified for the batting title since that season has hit above .300. Ben Revere hit a team-high .306 in 2014, but he also became the first .300 hitter in team history to have an OPS (on-base, plus slugging percentage) below .700. His .686 OPS that season was 25 points higher than his .661 career OPS.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob
Question: Are the Phillies considering selling face masks (maybe red with a big P) and using the profits to benefit those whose lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? I know I can’t be the first to suggest this.
Roy D., via email