Another COVID-19 forced week without baseball nears an end as the owners and players union work through a long list of health protocols and dig in on their financial stances that could impede the reopening of ballparks across the country.

For what it’s worth, Baseball-Reference’s simulated season remains unkind to the Phillies, who have lost eight of their last 10, including a 2-1 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday. The simulated Phillies are 20-29 and in fourth place, just a game ahead of the last-place Miami Marlins. They trail the first-place Atlanta Braves by 12 1/2 games.

If you’re actually following the Sim League, there is still hope. The Washington Nationals in real life were 19-30 and nine games out of first place after 49 games last season and Bryce Harper and the Phillies know very well how that turned out.

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Former Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco spits as he comes off the field during a game last season at Citizens Bank Park. Spitting will be against the rules if there is a season after the COVID-19 outbreak.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Former Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco spits as he comes off the field during a game last season at Citizens Bank Park. Spitting will be against the rules if there is a season after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Pandemic baseball a real challenge for behind-the-scenes workers

Frank Coppenbarger’s long career as a clubhouse manager and traveling secretary with the Phillies ended last season. His timing was impeccable because the men who now hold the jobs he performed so long and so well could be about to encounter a nightmare scenario.

“I’d say I’m relieved in a lot of ways,” Coppenbarger said during a phone interview Wednesday. “I don’t envy the guys who have to do what they’re going to have to do in the clubhouse and the traveling secretaries have a heck of a task to pull off in the best of situations, let alone with what this could end up being. It’s just a lot to pull together in a short period of time.”

Not much focus will be placed on Phillies clubhouse manager Phil Sheridan and traveling secretary Jameson Hall if and when baseball returns, but Coppenbarger is one man who knows the challenge that possibly awaits them.

“I don’t know if the traveling secretaries have any sort of schedule yet, but I have talked to Jameson quite a few times,” Coppenbarger said. “In a normal situation, you can start planning things in June or even May because parts of the following year’s schedule would start leaking out. You’d start to book the team hotels and you were done doing them by the time the previous season ended.”

In the proposed COVID-19 season, there will be a mad rush to get hotels and transportation schedules together. Players also lean on the traveling secretary to help them find housing in their home city and Coppenbarger speculated that a lot of players still do not know where they would stay if they are asked to be part of the 50-man team that will put in place for this season.

“They pulled the plug on spring training March 12 and that’s a little early for a lot of guys to know their status as to whether they were going to make the team,” Coppenbarger said. “A lot of time these guys need hotels at the start of the season because they cannot get a lease right away. It’s going to be a lot.”

In the proposed COVID-19 return, players are being asked to only ride on the team buses to and from games on the road. Coppenbarger knows from experience that it could be a difficult ask because players like to keep their own schedules.

“I’ve seen guys jump into a cab or an Uber when they know the team bus is only 30 seconds away,” Coppenbarger said. “A lot of guys like to get to the ballpark really early because they do not want to sit in their hotel rooms and they want to get to the ballpark and watch video and get ready for the game.”

Sheridan’s job as the clubhouse manager will be even more challenging.

“We have a really nice clubhouse, but I can tell you the lockers are not six feet apart,” Coppenbarger said. “The last time I checked there were 44 lockers, so it’s going to be real hard to keep 50 guys six feet apart. And then what in the world do you do in visiting clubhouses at places like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park where the players are on top of each other?”

In the initial proposal from the owners, players are being asked not to shower at the ballpark and to avoid gathering in the trainer’s room.

“That’s hard to imagine,” Coppenbarger said. “What happens to the laundry? If you let them take their uniforms home I’d be worried that they wouldn’t bring them back the next day.

“The two places the players gather the most are the food room and the training room. You have guys getting worked on and guys sitting there waiting to get worked on. It’s like a barbershop on a Saturday morning. I guess they just have to make the best of it in light of the situation, but it’s certainly not ideal.”

Coppenbarger worked through the Lenny Dykstra era of Phillies history and has watched generation after generation of ballplayers continue to chew and dip smokeless tobacco, so he knows asking them not to spit will be difficult to accomplish and probably impossible to enforce.

“Lenny used to come into the clubhouse and whatever flavor soda he was getting hits with, he’d take a mouthful of it and spit it on his shoes and then wipe off his shoes with a towel,” Coppenbarger said. “Sometimes he’d just spit tobacco everywhere. For a lot of these guys, especially with the sunflower seeds, they don’t even think about it because they’re so used to doing it.

“I don’t know how they’re going to police that. Guys might just have to tell each other to knock it off. I can’t see umpires enforcing it. Guys still have smokeless tobacco in their pants and that’s against the rules, but you don’t see umpires enforcing that.”

Like everybody else, Coppenbarger is hopeful that we’ll see big-league baseball this season. Unlike everybody else, he knows how difficult that is going to be for a lot of people behind the scenes.

“I think both sides will try hard, but logistically a lot of things have to be dealt with,” Coppenbarger said. “Whether or not it can all be worked out I really don’t know.”

The rundown

As Scott Lauber pointed out in his story over the weekend, the players union and MLB have a lot of stringent health guidelines to negotiate before they even start talking about the contentious issue of money.

Two players -- Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell and Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper -- expressed that they want their salaries for the 2020 season to be pro-rated by the number of games played and they claimed they are taking all the risk in terms of being exposed to COVID-19. Here’s my column explaining why they have a decent point.

Greg Gross finished his career as the Phillies’ all-time leader in pinch hits, a team record that still stands. But the most memorable hit of his career was a perfectly placed bunt single off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in the Phillies’ dramatic come-from-behind win over Houston in Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS.

Important dates

May 21: On this date in 1970 the Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals despite striking out 17 times. Future Phillies Hall of Famer Steve Carlton recorded 16 of the strikeouts.

May 23: On this date in 1991, Tommy Greene pitched a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos in Olympic Stadium. Greene walked seven, struck out 10 and threw 130 pitches in a 2-0 Phillies win.

May 24: This date is the 85th anniversary of baseball’s first night game. The Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.

May 25: Willie Mays made his big-league debut against the Phillies at Shibe Park on this date in 1951. Mays went hitless in five at-bats, but he contributed two brilliant defensive plays to an 8-5 Giants victory.

In his first game at Citizens Bank Park as a visiting player, Chase Utley (left) celebrates a grand slam with Dodger teammates in 2016. The Dodgers are 34-21 against the Phillies since 2012.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
In his first game at Citizens Bank Park as a visiting player, Chase Utley (left) celebrates a grand slam with Dodger teammates in 2016. The Dodgers are 34-21 against the Phillies since 2012.

Stat of the day

The aforementioned simulated season that follows the original actual schedule for the 2020 season had the Phillies losing five of six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. The Dodgers have won seven straight N.L. West titles and are 29-20 against the Phillies during that span. The Phillies have only won the season series with L.A. twice in the last seven seasons. Since the Phillies’ string of five straight division titles ended in 2012, they are 21-34 against the Dodgers. That .382 winning percentage is their worst against any N.L. club during that time period. If the COVID-19 schedule becomes a reality the Phillies would not have to see the Dodgers unless they met in the postseason.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: If major league draft going with only 5 rounds and shrinking minor league teams isn’t that going to have a terrible affect on growing the game? Less players....less minor ballclubs locks out a lot of young kids. And won’t these things thin the number of quality players being available?

See you at the ballpark?????????

Dennis G., via email

Answer: Thanks for reading Dennis and, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing you or any other fan at the ballpark in 2020. I’ll settle for the games without fans. As for your question, I think baseball would be making a huge mistake if it left the draft at five rounds beyond this season. I also hate the fact that they are going to reduce the number of minor-league teams by 40. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there will be guys that were drafted in later rounds that may never get a chance to make it to the big leagues. It’s sad, but true. We will not know the real impact for years to come, but rest assured it will have an impact.