MLB decided to restrict media from the clubhouse as a preventive measure to try to lower the chance of anyone on a team contracting the coronavirus.
League officials announced the decision in a conference call with all 30 teams Monday and the rule is set to become policy Tuesday. For now, MLB is planning to play the rest of spring training, begin the regular season on time on March 26 and continue to have fans at the games. But privately, some executives are worried the spread of the virus will not abate and — to that end — the league and clubs are pondering contingencies, just in case.
Thus, games could still be canceled, moved or played in empty stadiums. On the conference call, MLB officials conceded they will have to stay vigilant in monitoring the situation and stay in regular contact with local and national government and health officials to make determinations.
Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball — the second biggest baseball league in the world — announced Monday that because of fears about the virus it would not start its regular season (due to begin March 20) on time and that there were no current plans when it would begin.
For now, MLB joined the NBA, NHL and MLS in issuing a statement Monday evening that announced the barring of reporters from clubhouses/locker rooms. Once the other leagues were in agreement, MLB could not look as if it were not doing its utmost to protect its personnel.
I am not wise enough to know if this will actually help. What I do know is this is like cleaning the left eye of the Statue of Liberty and declaring the monument spotless. Because over the last five years the number of people regularly in MLB clubhouses has swelled dramatically.
In the leagues’ joint statement restricting reporters from the clubhouse, it also said, “all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice.”
Now, they will have to decide what “essential” means.
In MLB, coaching staffs that used to be five or six have doubled or tripled. The medical crews have greatly expanded, not only with more doctors and medical trainers, but massage therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionists, chefs, physical trainers and physical therapists (and I am leaving personnel out). There is more security. There are more front-office members, especially quantitative analysts, moving around the clubhouse.
There is more of everything, including in spring training players moving from the minor league complex (and all of their support staff) to the major league clubhouse (and back). All of these people come into contact with family and the outside world.
This is a long way of offering that even with reporters out of the clubhouse and any further trimming of personnel being done now, there have been and are so many concentric circles of people who have been in a major league clubhouse in contact with so many more outside the clubhouse.
Maybe MLB will be fortunate and avoid what feels inevitable in that Venn diagram. The NBA and NHL too. But what happens if a case is discovered?
Does just a player or coach or clubhouse attendant get quarantined for two weeks? A whole team? If so, does just that team stop playing games or does the whole sport have to wait so as to all play the same number of games in a season? Could you bring up minor leaguers? That would be hard to sell as either fair or a product the fans should pay for — plus many of those minor leaguers are or have been in major league camps.
In some ways, MLB is slightly better positioned than the NBA and NHL, which has to face all of these questions with their playoffs closing in. MLB can always shorten a regular season and expand the playoffs, if need be. However, MLB rosters are larger (26 this year) and the sport is at the time of year when teams have 60, 70 players interacting with one another and sharing a clubhouse. Thus, reporters are a percentage (usually not a very big one) in contact with major league personnel daily.
The number of reporters covering a team varies, often by city size or popularity — the Yankees regularly have more media than the Royals, as an example. The media contingent often swells if a player from Korea or Japan joins the team.
MLB says the media restriction is temporary and reporters will return to have clubhouse access when the league is given the greenlight from its medial personnel that it is safe to do so.