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The impact of COVID-19 on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates

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Looking at the impact of coronavirus on major league baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates

Coronavirus and baseball
Major League Baseball
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Baseball has long served as an escape for fans in the United States and around the globe. It has served as an escape from the winter doldrums, as Major League Baseball’s Spring Training has served as one of the early reminders that the harshness of winter is nearly over.

Baseball has served as an escape from the tragedies faced by society as was on full display following the terror attacks of 9-11 when fans of all walks came together as spectators to watch as the Great American Pastime helped bring them normalcy through the chaos and mend the wounds of a nation.

Currently, the United States and the rest of the nations of the world face a pandemic, unlike anything we have seen in modern history. COVID-19 or the coronavirus as it is commonly known as is impacting humanity on a global scale, as world leaders look to mitigate the damage caused by the spread of the disease.

The highly contagious nature of this pandemic has world leaders effectively working to quarantine large swaths of the population to prevent mass exposure to the disease in hopes of curtailing the spread of the deadly virus.

The world of professional and collegiate sports has essentially been placed on an indefinite suspension until COVID-19 has been effectively contained. Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association have all suspended all games and league activities indefinitely.

The NCAA has suspended all college athletic activities, canceling all men’s and women’s basketball conference championships, as well as their highest viewed event, March Madness which culminates in a national champion for basketball.

Major League Baseball decided to suspend Spring Training and postpone the beginning of the season until further notice. Instead of baseball fans watching to see who makes the final rosters of their favorite clubs and participating in fantasy baseball drafts over the next two weeks, they will instead be forced to wait for the coronavirus to be contained before baseball resumes normal activities.

Baseball fans and humanity as a whole are entering uncharted territory concerning the impact of COVID-19. Baseball has seen its share of work stoppages through labor disputes but has not been impacted by a world event to the extent that COVID-19 is expected to.

Currently, Major League Baseball set a tentative suspension of two weeks. However, they are planning on reexamining the situation as that tentative date approaches and could push the postponement back further if it is deemed necessary.

Baseball continued as usual during the Spanish Flu pandemic that lasted 15 months between 1918 and 1919, with iconic photos of players playing the game with surgical masks on. Before the Spanish Flu pandemic, the 1918 baseball season was shortened due to America’s entry into World War I

Outside of that, Major League Baseball suspended play on June 6, 1944, because of D-Day and would again postpone play due to the horrific terror events that took place on September 11, 2001. Outside of those three occurrences, the baseball season has not been suspended or postponed due to anything outside of labor disputes.

Currently, it remains unclear if Major League Baseball intends to makeup any games that are missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Honestly, it is likely too early for them to make a proper determination on the future of the season, as we are in the early stages of this global event.

Depending on how many baseball games are ultimately postponed, it becomes likely that the league does not opt to make up the missed games because of the nightmare that rescheduling would cause and because it would potentially push baseball into the heart of winter weather, which would cause logistical issues of its own.

The league and its teams, including the Pirates, are certainly going to lose out on revenue from the cancellation of spring training events. The loss of these games guarantees a loss of ticket revenue, merchandise sales revenue, and concession revenue. If regular-season games are also lost, that further magnifies the situation.

If Major League Baseball opts to resume and immediately begin the regular season rather than having an extended Spring Training, there will be ramifications from that as well. Players who were battling for a bubble spot on the roster may have a more difficult time supplanting the incumbent players.

For the Pirates players like Will Craig, Kevin Kramer, Jason Martin, Adam Frazier, Dovydas Neverauskas, Sam Howard, Hector Noesi, Andrew Susac, John Ryan Murphy, Cole Tucker, Jake Elmore and others may not receive the extended look they need to crack the roster.

Also, if the season begins immediately by going to regular-season games, it will be interesting to see the impact on pitchers who were just beginning to get stretched out and hitters were beginning to get their timing down.

Now that the teams are taking an extended break, they will have to remain cognizant of how they use their pitchers to mitigate injury risk and will need to be patient as hitters work to try to regain their timing. While both pitchers and hitters will likely be working out during their layoff, that is not going to be the same as real game situations that Spring Training provides.

As a result, the beginning of this season could be unusual from the perspective of how players are utilized during the onset and the statistical production that they have. However, nothing about baseball or society, in general, is usual at the moment.

Major League Baseball will certainly need to make the appropriate adjustments once the threat of the pandemic subsides. In many ways that mirror the actions and adjustments that everyday citizens will need to take in their personal lives as they prepare to face the uncertain times of an unprecedented period in society due to the pandemic.

With the lack of the Great American Pastime or any other sporting event, to help act as a reprieve from the stresses that the coronavirus may have on society, citizens will need to instead rely on one another to help each other through what may be a difficult time.

We all need to remember to remain safe and to act with compassion and empathy as we work through the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic and patiently await the return of the game of baseball that we love so much.