MLB's cascading failures were foreseeable

August 2, 2020

By the time you read this, MLB’s season could be cancelled, because the league’s leadership, like much of the country, apparently can’t be bothered to take the coronavirus seriously enough to make real progress in holding it off, let alone suppressing it. Also, it was all foreseeable.

The latest news on Sunday evening was that multiple St. Louis Cardinals had tested positive for the virus, and that Monday was declared an off day for the Cards and their upcoming opponent, the Detroit Tigers. Moreover, ESPN reported, games that had been scheduled for play in St. Louis have been moved to Detroit, where the teams may play four games while splitting home team privileges.

This is ridiculous. The Marlins have only played three games so far due to a team covid outbreak. Over a week and a half of play, already the Marlins, Orioles, Yankees, Phillies, Nationals, Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, and now the Tigers have had games postponed due to illness.

Ultimately, MLB’s screwups can best be described as what happens when leaders refuse to properly assess and accept shortcomings and flaws, then proceed to try and will their way to a desired result, without applying much imagination. That is, Rob Manfred and the team owners plowed forward with something resembling a normal MLB season, only cut down to 60 regular-season games, and grafted a few coronavirus measures onto the operation rather than reimagining what Major League Baseball could be.

While constructing a single bubble was always a pipe dream for a league with rosters as large as MLB’s (with a strong enough union to push back against four-month isolation), and setting up three bubbles would have been difficult, too, the league didn’t help itself by building a nonsensical unbalanced schedule that simultaneously put teams at greater risk from the virus.

For example, in the original 60-game schedule, the Giants and Dodgers are scheduled to play each other 10 times, with seven of those games in Los Angeles and three in San Francisco. Why? Beats me. Why are there two-game series scheduled with multiple legs of travel week in and week out? Beats me. Why didn’t MLB schedule five-game series against each divisional opponent and four-game series against the other opponents? Beats me. Why are games scheduled in the evenings, just like usual, instead of playing during the day while many of us are stuck at home? Probably the same answer for all the other decisions MLB has made this year: that’s a condition for getting paid.

Right now, MLB is in the midst of cascading failures. Because various parties wanted a season where each team played in their own ballpark… Because MLB and the union didn’t agree on a daily testing protocol and strict social measures… Because the schedule doesn’t minimize travel… Because Rob Manfred has habitually framed continuing the season in unhelpful ways... And on and on… Because of all that and more, players and coaches aren’t sufficiently safe and the season likely will be suspended sooner rather than later, whether Manfred does it or health authorities in one or more locales step in and force the issue.

MLB could have played games this year in a safer manner — a series of two-week tournaments, a procession of best-of-seven matchups, et cetera — but instead we got this mess. Again: it was all foreseeable.

(Photo: "Progressive Field" by Erik Drost. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)