The Major League Baseball Players Association responded late Thursday afternoon to the league’s proposed medical and safety protocols for opening the 2020 season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a union official confirmed.
“The union has spent the past several days carefully reviewing the manual and gathering feedback from its medical experts and players across the league, including a 3 ½-hour video conference with 100-plus player leaders on Monday night,” the official said.
The union’s response to MLB was described as “wide-ranging,” with questions, suggestions and requests for clarification on issues such as testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, the presence of on-site medical personnel, protections for high-risk players and family members, access to pre- and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols.
The league sent its original proposal, a highly detailed, 67-page manual that covered issues such as testing, social-distancing guidelines and risk mitigation, on Friday.
Baseball hopes to open its season around July 4, preceded by a roughly three-week “spring training 2.0” beginning in mid-June, which gives the sides until roughly the first week of June to reach an agreement. The sport hopes to play in as many teams’ home stadiums as possible, with no fans present at least in the early stages.
The MLBPA began disseminating the document to its 1,200 members shortly after receiving it, commissioning a Spanish-language version for its Latin American players, and consulted with its own set of medical experts.
As the document made clear, playing a 2020 season will require significant behavioral modifications for players and all other essential personnel permitted into the stadiums. Players, for example, would be barred from spitting or exchanging high fives, and would be discouraged from showering or using hydrotherapy pools at stadiums. Players would also be asked not to venture from their hotel rooms while on the road.
A central facet of MLB’s proposal was a testing program in which players and other essential, on-field personnel would be tested several times per week. However, Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is among those questioning whether that is enough frequency, telling ESPN this week, “I don’t see us playing without testing every day.”
Another union concern is that MLB’s testing program – which would be run out of the same Utah lab that administers the sport’s drug-testing program – would divert critical resources from the general public, a factor MLB sought to address in its proposal by calling for additional tests to be made available in every major league city.
Should the sides reach agreement on the protocols for starting the season, it would still need to solve the contentious issue of player compensation, which has exploded into a public squabble in recent weeks.
The owners, foreseeing diminished revenue from games without fans, want players to accept a reduction in salaries – on top of the one the sides agreed to in March, calling for players to receive prorated shares of their 2020 salaries based on the number of games played – while the union contends the compensation issue was already settled in the March agreement.
The owners last week were poised to propose a 50-50 split of revenue between owners and players, but when details of the proposal leaked in the media, the union immediately characterized it as a non-starter, and MLB has yet to make any economic proposal.