MLB returned to action last night and COVID-19 made an immediate impression. The ESPN crew doing the Nats/Yankees game introduced themselves from an ESPN studio and not from the press box. Only because of the ongoing pandemic could this situation ever obtain; in days of yore, reporters could have been fired for “covering a game” by watching it on television. Change is everywhere…
There is a baseball change for this year that I hope does not catch on as a “good idea”. The baseball playoffs will be expanded to 16 teams this year – 8 from each league. For years, baseball had one postseason event – the World Series. Then they added a wild card team to the postseason and then came division winners. This year more than half of the MLB teams will be in the playoffs leading up to the World Series.
- Sorry, that is too much of a not-so-good thing.
One “change issue” remains to be resolved. There is a team in MLB without a home. The Blue Jays cannot play in Toronto because of travel restrictions between Canada and the US due to the pandemic. It looked as if the Blue Jays were going to call Pittsburgh’s PNC Park home for 2020, but somehow that ran afoul of regulators/government officials in Pennsylvania. [Aside: I would have thought that MLB and the folks who run the Jays would have had that sort of approval in their back pockets even before broaching the subject with the “PNC Park people”.]
The Jays’ first “home game” is scheduled for 29 July. Stay tuned…
The Nats’ Juan Soto was not in the lineup last night because he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day. According to MLB protocol, he must now quarantine for a minimum of 10 days and then produce two negative COVID-19 tests before he can be in a game. That news stands in contrast with the NBA experience in the “Orlando Bubble” where there have been no positive tests to date. MLB is not an entity that would fit neatly into any imaginable “Bubble Environment”; there are too many players on the teams to make that work and the fields needed to pull off the games are too large to be squeezed into a single complex. Basketball courts are far more amenable to such clustering of venues.
I mention this because the NFL should be paying strict attention. MLB is the operating model for the NFL; there is no “Bubble”; players will need to be living in the community and traveling from city to city. Baseball has recorded several positive virus tests along the way; MLB is trying to contain a viral spread where the number of infected players at the outset of the season is relatively small. Meanwhile, the NFLPA announced earlier this week that 95 NFL players have tested positive for COVID-19 and that number is up from 72 players with positive tests on July 10. That increase is a bit more than 30% over a two-week time span – – and training camps have not yet begun.
As I understand it, this is the NFL testing protocol for training camp:
- Players will be tested daily for COVID-19 for at least the first two weeks of training camp. So will “team personnel with close access” to the players.
- If at the end of two weeks, the positivity rate falls below 5% of everyone in the testing universe, tests would then be administered every other day.
- If the positivity rate does not fall below 5%, tests would continue to be done every day until that positivity rate does fall below 5%.
- [Don’t know what happens if the positivity rate never falls below 5%.]
MLB had some positive on-field news from yesterday. Mookie Betts signed a humongous long-term deal with the Dodgers; the terms are reported to be 12 years and $365M starting next year. Betts will be 28 when the new contract kicks in next year and he will play under that contract until he is 40 years old. Obviously, the folks who make the financial decisions for the Dodgers do not see a future where COVID-19 puts a lasting economic wet blanket on MLB teams.
It seems as if we cannot go a day without having something strange emanate from the inner workings of the currently nameless Washington NFL franchise. In fact, yesterday brought two such emanations:
- The team announced that it will refer to itself as the “Washington Football Team” for 2020 as it makes its final decision and secures the proper trademark rights. Please note that it takes only the most minor rearrangement of the first letters of that team name to arrive at “WTF”. Not such a bad fit for that acronym and that that team owner either…
- The Fritz Pollard Alliance took exception to the hiring processes by which the “WTFs” (sorry, I cannot resist that.) filled some of the vacancies created by the dismissal of folks in the wake of the exposure of sexual harassment allegations within the organization. The Alliance questions if the team complied with league rules as they relate to interviews for minority candidates to fill certain front office jobs.
Normally, I agree with positions taken by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but in this case, I wonder if this is a fight worth having. Anyone who has read these rants for more than a month knows that I am anything but an apologist for the Washington WTFs, but when I look at the recent hiring decisions, I do not see an organization mired in “good-old-boy” practices.
- Ron Rivera was hired as head coach in January. He is a man of Hispanic heritage.
- Julie Donaldson was hired to replace Larry Michael as VP for Media Content (whatever that job is). She is a woman.
- Eric Stokes was hired as the Director of Pro Scouting replacing Alex Santos. He is an African-American.
- Jeff Scott was promoted internally as the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting replacing Richard Mann II. He is an African-American.
If the substantive goal here is diversity and career development for women and minorities, it would seem that whatever process may have been in use here produced a positive result. The raising of an issue here by the Fritz Pollard Alliance seems petty to me – – and that is not the history of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. There must be more to this than is obvious at the moment.
Finally, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently related to the Washington WTFs:
“Wondering: Why is Ron Rivera, who has been with the team for about 20 minutes, deeply involved in finding a new name? As if he doesn’t have enough to do. Who is running the operation? But that’s a question fans of the team have been asking for years.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………