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MLB wants to play in California ballparks by July; Gov. Newsom won’t commit

A view of seats in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.
A view of seats in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. MLB owners will propose a July start to the season in empty stadiums.
(Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Now comes the hard part.

On Monday, major league owners approved a proposal that envisions a 2020 season of about 82 games, starting in early July. On Tuesday, the commissioner’s office is set to present that proposal to the players’ union, triggering what is expected to be a contentious negotiation that could doom a potential season.

Major League Baseball has discussed proposed health protocols with California officials, but Gov. Gavin Newsom declined to promise that the state’s five big league teams would be permitted to play in their home ballparks.

“We’ll see where we will be in July,” Newsom said.

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Under the proposal approved Monday, games would be regionalized. The Dodgers would remain in the National League West and the Angels in the American League West, with games limited to opponents in the western divisions of both leagues.

The postseason would be expanded from 10 teams to 14, with rosters expanded and the designated hitter used in both leagues.

If the NBA resumes play, Adam Silver says it must stay on course even in the face of a positive COVID-19 test. Meanwhile, the UFC made that decision in real time.

Owners want salary concessions from players, which the union considers a non-starter. Above all, numerous players have expressed concern that they have not seen much discussion about the health and safety aspects of any proposal to play.

Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted: “It feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season.”

MLB officials declined to comment on the proposal, including what would happen if a player tested positive for COVID-19 and whether the regional nature of the schedule was based on costs and logistics or the league believed the risk of contracting the virus would be minimized with less travel.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told NBA players on a conference call last week that he believed a player testing positive could be isolated without a prolonged stoppage of play, according to the Athletic. Silver said he had spoken with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

However, Dr. Dena Grayson, a Florida-based expert in pandemics, said best practices currently dictate a 14-day quarantine for anyone who might have been in contact with a person testing positive, which could mean compromising the integrity of a schedule by isolating most or all of a team.

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She said she would recommend each person be tested daily. If each team has a traveling party of 100, that would mean MLB could use 3,000 tests per day. That would represent about 1 of 100 tests administered in the United States each day last week, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“What’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests?” Doolittle asked.

Grayson also said there is no evidence from the Centers for Disease Control that regional travel would lessen the health risk.

The EPL, which suspended its season March 13, is the second of Europe’s five major soccer leagues to be given government approval to return behind Germany.

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“You don’t see the CDC saying, ‘It’s OK to travel, just please don’t change your longitude,’ ” she said.

In March, after spring training was called off, the commissioner’s office and players’ union agreed that players would be paid on a prorated basis for any games played this season.

The owners, citing a provision that contemplated a discussion of the economic feasibility of games without fans, have asked the players to agree to share revenue on a 50-50 basis for this year only. Owners say that would help compensate for the loss of the roughly 40% of industry revenue that comes from tickets, food, drinks, merchandise and parking.

The union says the owners can decide whether it makes economic sense to play, but it is resistant to what it considers a demand to take another pay cut when players would already be down to about half of their salary and might be putting their health at risk. The union also is concerned that revenue sharing — even if the parties could agree on the terms — could lead to an unwanted salary cap.

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“That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past — and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days — suggests they know exactly how this will be received,” union chief Tony Clark told the Athletic.

“None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season — which continues to be our sole focus.”

From the owners’ viewpoint, the loss of an entire season could lead to huge payroll cuts next year, leaving the players losing about 96% of their collective salaries this year and potentially hundreds of millions more in collective salary in 2021.

Even with an agreement, the 100 or so people who would be needed to stage a fan-free game would constitute a gathering beyond California’s current limits. Newsom said he had spoken with Manfred and said MLB had promised it would not take action in violation of state guidelines.

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Newsom said the guidance could vary throughout the state, depending on the spread of the novel coronavirus in each region. If the guidelines do not change by then, the Dodgers, Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics all could be forced to play out of the state if the season starts in July, perhaps at their training sites in Arizona.

“We certainly look forward to Major League Baseball and all sports resuming, but again, the question is when,” Newsom said, “and that will be determined on the basis of public health and public safety and the spread of this virus.”

California’s reopening plan specifically lists “sports without live audiences” as a category in Phase 3. The state is not at that phase yet but could be there in time for the proposed MLB season.

While getting the Dodgers ready for a restart, Andrew Friedman, Dave Roberts and their wives are distributing meals to hospitals to feed front-line workers.

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Mike Lyster, spokesman for the city of Anaheim, said the Angels would be invited to play at Angel Stadium in accordance with the state plan, and as long as the team provides a protocol in such areas as employee training, screening and safeguards, cleaning and disinfecting the ballpark, physical distancing where possible, and other preventive measures.

“We welcome and are working toward the safe, responsible, initial return of baseball in Anaheim consistent with California’s guidelines,” Lyster said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said science would drive city approval of any games at Dodger Stadium.

“Like so many people, I am anxious to see competitive sports return — but every decision has to be guided by facts, data and what’s in the best interest of everyone’s well-being,” he said. “Our focus is on stopping the spread and saving lives, but I could support a proposal that brings games back responsibly and has the support of public health experts.”

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Newsom’s previous comments on limiting large gatherings make it unlikely that the All-Star game would be played as scheduled July 14 at Dodger Stadium. The league is expected to use that window to play regular-season games, then reschedule the 2020 All-Star game, perhaps for 2022. The 2021 game has been awarded to Atlanta.

The 2021 World Baseball Classic also would be rescheduled.

Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report from Sacramento.


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