Miller Park Stadium

What Would it Take to Salvage This Baseball Season?

The teams have to stay healthy and the fans have to stay home.

If Major League Baseball returns this season, Milwaukee Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio wants the team’s second round of training to take place at Miller Park in Milwaukee and not at American Family Fields of Phoenix. 

The Brewers had been nearing the end of spring training in Arizona preparing to start the regular season on March 26 with a highly anticipated opening day matchup at Miller Park against NL Central division rival Chicago Cubs when the COVID-19 pandemic put the season on indefinite hold.

“My strong preference is to conduct spring training in Miller Park and bring the boys back to town,” Attanasio says. “I think it will be a real boost for everyone. To do that, we’ve got to get through all these medical protocols, but I think we can make Miller Park as safe as we can make American Family Fields.”

A second spring training could take place in mid-June, followed by an early July start to the regular season under a proposed plan.

Attanasio, along with Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell participated in webinar on Tuesday hosted by the Greater Milwaukee Committee to provide an update on plans for the 2020 season. 

Negotiations are continuing to try to salvage the baseball season. 

Among the proposed measures are an 81-game regional schedule (half the normal 162-game slate); universal designated hitter; 30-man active rosters with a 20-player taxi squad; 14 teams in the postseason with games played in home cities in October; and a 50/50 revenue split for players and owners, although an alternate plan is reported to be in the works after players balked at the initial proposal (the league was expected on Tuesday to present the MLB Players Association with a new plan for how finances and revenue would be split). 

The most dramatic change, however, would be playing games in empty stadiums to best protect the players from contracting coronavirus. 

“The players will dearly miss fans in the stands,” Counsell says. “More than the rule changes, the environment we are going to play in is going to be very unique.”

Artificial fan cheering and background noise could be piped into stadiums to offset the absence of fans.

“Instead of a live entertainment event, it’s become like we are on a movie set or a TV set,” Counsell says. “It’s actors in a TV production. I do think you’ll see different personalities in the players at times.” 

The lack of fans will have a significant impact on the league-wide revenue, Attanasio points out.

Major League Baseball generates annual revenue of about $9.4 billion, 40 percent of which stems from ticket sales, concessions, parking and other gate-related items.

A shortened season, combined with playing games in empty stadiums, could reduce the league’s revenue to less than $3 billion this season, according to Attanasio.

As for on-field effects, an 81-game season, although abbreviated, can’t be treated as a “sprint,” Counsell warns.

“It’s still 81 games, that’s like a full NBA season. It’s significant,” he says. 

However, the shortened season would create challenges, Counsell adds.

“Keeping players healthy in a short season may be more challenging than ever and maybe more important than ever,” Counsell says. “We have to be very careful with their health and it’s going to be important that we are prudent with how much usage all of our players are going to have early in the season.” 

The organization’s top priority, if baseball returns, is the safety of those involved in the team’s operations, Stearns insists.

“If we are going to get players back on the field, and I’m very optimistic that we can, we have to ensure that we can keep everyone safe,” he says.

An “extraordinarily robust” testing system would be implemented, with some personnel being tested multiple times per week, or daily, Stearns says.

Social distancing guidelines will be strictly followed.

“It means reconfiguring a lot of our clubhouse spaces and providing extra space for our players to go through their normal routines,” he says. “It means encouraging our players to spend more time outside.”

Planned guidelines would even create an assigned seat for Counsell in the dugout.

“I don’t know if Craig is going to love that too much,” Stearns says.

Baseball has played a “healing role” for the country and its return is of critical importance, Attanasio says.

“Whether it’s in the aftermath of wars or terrorist events and now, in the aftermath of a pandemic, we have the opportunity to get out and play and help repair the damage that’s been done,” he says.

Collaboration will play a key role to safely stage games, Attanasio points out.

The Brewers plan to consult with Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO John Raymond, Milwaukee County Emergency Management Medical Director Ben Weston, and City of Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Jeanette Kowalik, as well as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Tony Evers. 

Team officials have been reviewing a 68-page document that is guiding the team’s decisions, according to Attanasio.

“The teams that can keep healthy, if we get back on the field this year, are going to have an advantage over teams that have a COVID-19 outbreak,” Attanasio says. “It’s critically important, first and foremost, for everybody’s health and safety, but also for those of us who care about competing.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.