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A bubble would not have worked for the MLB

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Wish the MLB instituted a bubble like the other leagues? Well it’s not the same.

St. Louis Cardinals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Well last weekend was a disaster. I’ll be honest. When I wrote my last post on Thursday, it had not occurred to me that the Cardinals might not literally play any games over the weekend. But it should have occurred to me. Because of course what happened was always a possibility. The coronavirus is extremely contagious, we just saw nearly an entire team not take it seriously, and it’s not a leap to suggest it could happen to the Cardinals as well.

Well, it did happen to the Cardinals. At least four members of the Cardinals traveling team tested positive for COVID, including at least one player. I do not have more information than that at the time of this writing. I refuse to speculate on which players got it or how they got it. When Player X is mysteriously put on the IL with no disclosed condition, then I will speculate. Until then, I’m not assuming anything.

In response to the Marlins team outbreak and now a possible Cardinals team outbreak (if it’s not already an outbreak by Monday) is a widespread criticism of the MLBPA for not being willing to play in a bubble like the NBA or NHL. Let’s for the moment ignore the fact that we don’t actually know if the owners were pushing hard for that or using it as negotiation leverage and didn’t actually ever intend to play in a bubble or if that was just a rumor and the owners never seriously considered it. I know some fans wanted a bubble, I’m just not sure if it was ever a serious thing for either side, not just the players.

The thing about a bubble for the MLB is I think it would have been basically impossible, or at least it wouldn’t be effective. People will of course point to the NBA, NHL, and MLS as leagues that are using a bubble effectively and if the MLB would have just done that, then we wouldn’t be in this situation. There’s a big, big problem with those comparisons though. The MLB is so different than those leagues and the situations they would face, that I don’t actually think you can use those as parallels.

Let’s start with the NBA, and it’s too early to say it’s effective quite yet. I mean so far so good, but we’ll see how it holds. Remember the Lou Williams incident? He left the bubble to go to a strip club “for the chicken wings.” He would have gone unnoticed too if a picture of him didn’t surface. But let’s say things do run smoothly.

For starters, the NBA has only 22 of the 30 teams playing. The top 22 teams play eight regular season games from July 31st to August 15th to determine seeding of the playoffs and decide the 16 spots available for the playoffs. If the 9th seed finishes within four games of the 8th seed, a play-in game will occur with the 8th seed getting a 1-0 lead in a “Best of 3” series. Which seems pretty likely, although I don’t follow the NBA. Right off the bat though, there’s eight teams that are at home that aren’t even a factor.

On August 17th, six teams are removed. (The play-in games would happen before the playoffs officially start, and the reported date is August 17th). The target date for the conference semifinals is August 31st, so now we’re down eight more teams. On September 15, it’s a Final Four, and by September 30th, it’s the NBA finals. Why is this important? Well, baseball will have all 30 teams, good or bad, playing until then. Plus, it’s just straight up an easier sell to players to abandon family and live in a bubble if it’s win or go home. Either you get to see your family and loved ones quicker or you keep advancing to possibly win an NBA title.

Plus, there’s the pure personnel involved. I reached out to a Cardinal fan who is also an NBA fan, and asked him how many people are involved with the day-to-day of running practices and games in the NBA. With players, coaches, trainers, PR, and maybe digital media, he landed at 30 people. The Cardinals, thanks to a handy recent tweet, have a traveling team of 58 people. So baseball teams have twice as many people to live in a bubble. Then take into account that less teams are on campus for the NBA than would be in the MLB.

So let’s do some math. The NBA has to quarantine and bubble roughly 660 people from July until the middle of August. On August 17th, that number goes down to 480, and then 240, and then to 120 and then to just 60. I don’t know if my friend’s numbers are exactly accurate, but they aren’t far off and it doesn’t detract from my point. Meanwhile, the MLB is carrying roughly 1,740 people all total, and that’s not including people who are on the 60 man who will be called up for injuries throughout the season. So the MLB would have to quarantine and bubble 1,740+ people for most of the NBA playoffs up until the NBA title and then the theoretical MLB playoffs start and the numbers start going down.

Let’s move on to the NHL, which I think can start and end with just saying they get to play in Canada. Players might break protocol there, but it is much less likely to matter. In all of Canada, there are 6,222 active cases. There are 513 new cases as of July 31st. In Florida, there are 9,007 daily new cases. It’s actually insane that Florida, not a huge state, literally has over 17x the amount of new cases as Canada right now. That’s just Florida too. Arizona has 3,212 daily new cases. Texas has 9,750 daily new cases. The NHL I think has a similar amount of people that would constitute a “traveling team,” but they’re just playing in a much, much, much safer environment.

And then pretty much every argument I used above, about how the teams will be dwindling at the same time that no teams get removed for the MLB, applies to the NHL too. It’s easier to bubble a bunch of people for a month, and then as it potentially gets more complicated to keep a bunch of people in a bubble, less people need to be in that bubble and who does have to is now closer to getting a Stanley Cup. It’s just a completely different ballgame from having all 30 teams play for two months straight in a bubble, at least a third of which will probably know quickly that they won’t be making the playoffs.. The Stanley Cup playoffs are supposed to end no later than October 4th, which is about when the MLB playoffs are supposed to start. Get the difference?

And lastly, and the easiest to say is not the same is the MLS. I again don’t know how many people are on a traveling team, but it’s no more than the NBA at the least. And this league too set it up to a playoff style bracket near immediately. They officially started games on July 8, the playoff bracket started July 25th. Games end August 11th. Even the winner of the MLS is Back Tournament is going to spend less time in a bubble than the entirety of the MLB will be by about a month.

Really the biggest problem, aside from the length of the season, aside from the amount of teams, and even aside from the amount of people that would need to be bubbled, is that they’d presumably need to play in Florida, Texas, or Arizona. I realize the NBA is also in Florida, but there’s no Disney World set-up for the MLB. I think most people would agree that some less than smart MLB players would ignore the bubble. So how exactly would the league prevent players and personnel from leaving this bubble? Security? What are they going to post a guard at each door? I’m certainly not convinced with a bubble that things are that different than from right now.

And part of that is a lack of faith that the MLB and Rob Manfred would really take any measures to protect that bubble. Yes, the players are too to blame. But so is the MLB at large for... seemingly not have any plans or contingencies. This wouldn’t change with a bubble. It’s be just as makeshift and wobbly. That’s why it annoys me to see people put 100 percent blame on the MLBPA. Everyone is to blame for this shitshow.