MLB players open to games without fans amid coronavirus uncertainty, union chief says

There is too much to learn still. Too much to digest. Too many days like today and yesterday and the day before that, like tomorrow, for which the priorities could hardly be further from where baseball games might be played on some other day.

The owners and players had first to reach a place where the game could stand where its public does, separate and together, at a respectful distance from whatever might be coming in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. An ongoing scrum over compensation and pounds of wealth would hardly have reflected well on either.

In a 45-minute conference call with reporters stationed across the country, and hours after Major League Baseball owners and players agreed to the broad economic and functional terms for what is likely to be a shortened season, union chief Tony Clark first honored the state of a nation edgy and apprehensive.

“The players understand the gravity of the pandemic,” he said, especially the “hardships in and out of the game” endured by millions and the “extraordinary measures” being applied by those in the public health and safety fields.

Later, under questioning about the lengths players would approve — or seek — in order to salvage the season, he added, “Players want to play. That’s what we do. That’s what they do.”

Assuming there is a day — six weeks from now or beyond — on which baseball resumes, the season is likely to look far different than any before it. Beyond that, owners are likely to make less money. Players are likely to earn less. That seems generally to be how the pandemic is shaking out, along with a thousand other mutations of real substance.

In a climate in which his business falls into the category of nonessential, the players, Clark said, are willing to talk. About the games being played at neutral sites.

They are open to playing in empty ballparks, Clark told Yahoo Sports.

“Players are willing to do so, so much so that they wanted to make sure that it was one of the factors around us looking at potential schedules and what that might look like,” Clark said. “The guys think that playing in front of empty stadiums is not ideal but that their fans are watching and that they can play and perform and compete is something that they’re willing to do.”

Port St. Lucie, Fl.: Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association answers questions about the Houston Astros' sign stealing scandal at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida on February 19, 2020. Clark met with New York Mets players before their spring training workout. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images)
Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the sport's stars are open to numerous permutations of the altered schedule that may be necessary to play baseball in 2020. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images)

As for his perception of how the league views that, he said, “They’re willing to do it. How long they’re willing to do it is another question. The willingness to get started and have a conversation about what that might look like, the other side has shown a willingness to have that discussion.”

About the schedule being condensed and/or pushed into November.

About the postseason adding teams and/or rounds.

About the All-Star Game opening the season or ending it.

About early preparation taking place in big-league cities or spring training sites.

About it all.

“Players have a willingness,” Clark said, “to discuss all of those permutations.”

MLB officials are sketching outlines of seasons that begin in late May, late June and beyond, that add games upon games, that stuff doubleheaders into days off, of postseasons that do not begin until November, and of oversized rosters that would allow for the rigors of extra games and travel.

Asked specifically whether the All-Star Game still could be played in Los Angeles on or near its scheduled mid-July date, Clark appeared to speak generally when he responded, “The calendar is going to dictate a lot of what can and can’t be done. Right now, no door is closed.

“We will be involved in all of those discussions and engage the league on how things are progressing.”

So little can be known about what is next, about when it will be safe to open the gates of normalcy again, and then where something like a baseball game will fall on that schedule. Also, what happens when it suddenly isn’t safe again, if a player falls ill.

“There are local and even federal regulations that are in place,” Clark said. “The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is largely going to dictate what the process is. Obviously the protocol and process today may be different a month or two or three months from now. So all of that is something we're going to need to talk about and adhere to.

“Right now you know that the quarantine rules mandate 14 days of quarantine not just for yourself individually, but for your teammates. Obviously that has a dramatic effect on whether your team can play. Down the road that might be different. We’ll have, I would like to think, more tests. We may have a better understanding of the virus itself. And so the current standards may be different a few months from now, we’re just gonna have to see.”

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