Major League Baseball's plan to play through a public health crisis is outlined in a handbook that encompasses more than 100 pages, every single one of which emphasizes the notion that professional baseball in 2020 will be unlike anything anybody has ever experienced. Players are advised to wear sandals in the shower and close airplane toilet lids before flushing and open windows on buses. Spitting and high-fiving are disallowed, clean towels must be utilized when leaning on dugout railings and pitchers should keep wet rags in their back pockets to prevent them from licking their fingers.
And yet, in spite of the exhaustive detail in baseball's operations manual, the fate of this season -- if there ultimately is one -- will hinge on the countless choices made by hundreds of people in dozens of locations on an everyday basis. It will come down to discipline and accountability, not instruction and protocol. In the words of one veteran infielder: "The team that has the fewest positive cases is gonna win the World Series."
It was a hyperbolic statement meant to emphasize a key point about the reality of this summer: In a 60-game season littered with unconventionality -- during which any team, regardless of payroll and talent, can go on a run and win it all -- the only true competitive advantage might lie in one's ability to field the most complete roster possible.
Nearly 3 million Americans had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, resulting in more than 130,000 deaths, when teams officially began workouts on Friday morning. Thirty-eight states had experienced a rise in cases by that point. COVID-19 spreads quickly and easily, oftentimes as a result of contact with carriers who might never experience symptoms. Avoiding a spread that would further jeopardize public health, might endanger more vulnerable members of an organization and, of far lesser importance, jeopardize MLB's ability to stage a season will take monk-like discipline from those who are classified in the league's health and safety protocols as being in Tiers 1 and 2, a list that can encompass as many as 3,750 people among the 30 teams.
Can they -- specifically the young, wealthy, single players with higher risk tolerances -- do it?