Philadelphia Phillies: Imagining a 2020 MLB season without fans

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

If league owners and the players union can agree on a proposal, the Philadelphia Phillies could return around the fourth of July with new rules and no fans.

Who knows when, or if baseball will return. But if it does, it’s looking more and more like the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be played in empty ballparks.

On Monday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred held a conference call and discussed a reopening plan for the 2020 season with the league’s 30 team owners. And per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the proposed plan was approved by the owners and sent to the Major League Baseball Player’s Association on Tuesday to begin negotiations. The proposed plan included the following highlights:

  •  An expansion of playoff teams from 10 to 14
  • An 82-game season
  • Universal designated hitter
  • 30-man roster with a taxi squad; up to 50 players available.
  • 50/50 revenue split for players and owners

Regarding the last bullet point, it’s easier said than done – especially for the MLB. While revenue sharing is common in other leagues, such as the NFL, NHL, and NBA, the MLB stands as the lone uncapped team-sport in the United States – creating a sizable hurdle to cross, and bringing foreseeable counter-proposals to the league, if/when a deal is struck.

It’s also important to note the MLBPA represents more than 1,200 members in its union; ranging in diverse backgrounds, interests, and economic views. If you mix this into the factors associated with the current pandemic, it creates an even bigger hurdle for a settlement – challenging players to question the rush back, as well as the inherent health risk to themselves and their families.

And if we flashback to late March, the league owners and players agreed to the following: if the season is canceled, the players would accept a small percentage in their 2020 salaries in exchange for service time – also known as a prorated salary.

Presumably, the league’s owners and MLBPA will need to figure out how/or if money is distributed among players – but at this point, it seems inevitable, especially after agreeing to a prorated salary, that the owners and players are headed on a high-speed collision course.

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Simply put, money is at the heart of the return.

So what does this mean for MLB fans? If an agreement is reached and experts determine the safest way for baseball to return, it’s a win! And if not, nothing changes, and we’re in the same position…

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say baseball returns – what will it be like without fans? Tailgating, walking around the concourse, and eating an overpriced hot dog is all but a distant memory. And it’s undeniable that a crowd at a baseball game takes on a personality of its own and becomes an element of the game itself – from the occasional mid-game snoozer to a crowd of 40,000-plus harassing the umpire during a late-season rivalry game.

Sure, playing without a crowd seems unrealistic, but some baseball is better than no baseball, right?

Amid the ongoing pandemic in South Korea, the Korean Baseball Organization established a safe way to start its delayed season on May 5th. Some of the new rules include; the umpires and all non-uniformed personnel must wear masks, temperature checks of players will be performed twice-daily, and should a player display symptoms, they’ll be placed in quarantine immediately, and the league will shut down for at least three weeks.

And to suffice for games without fans, the KBO got creative and added images of people on banners placed throughout the stands, as well as adding fake crowd noise to games. It seems unnatural – but the MLB, as well as other professional sports leagues, are taking note of what the KBO is doing; as much so as according to a statement by Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck, networks are planning to add crowd noise and virtual fans to empty stadiums to make the TV broadcast experience more normal for viewers during the upcoming NFL season.

And let’s not forget, in 2015 the MLB experienced its first crowd-less game. It was amid the unrest and protests stemming from the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore that propelled the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox to play the third game of their series behind the closed gates at Camden Yards. The Orioles ended with an 8-2 victory over with White Sox, in a game that lasted only 2 hours, 3 minutes – but it left Oriole’s announcer Gary Thorne saying, “Thank god it’s over, and I hope we never have to do this again.”

In the end, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the return of the MLB.

Obviously, it’s difficult to imagine an empty Citizen’s Bank Park, or the roar of the crowd when Harper hits a home run. Still, there are multiple factors prior to returning that will need to be addressed aside from the black and white of it all. And yes, visually, it will be different – but at heart (even behind a screen), we’ll still be the same old fans. We’ll still have the occasional mid-game snoozer, we’ll still call for the Phillies to make a trade when so-and-so goes 0-4 at the plate, and we’ll still have the seventh-inning stretch… or maybe multiple-inning stretches.

And hey on a brighter note… ‘ballpark’ food and beverages will be cheaper and no after-game traffic!

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But in the interim Philadelphia, as we wait for our home nine to retake the field, put on your favorite pair of sweatpants, wash your hands, grab a beer, and turn on some of your favorite Philadelphia Phillies‘ highlights to fill the void.