Can the Colorado Rockies and the rest of Major League Baseball make a return to the playing field in 2020 mandatory for all players? One former Rockies pitcher is asking that question and doubting, as the questions surrounding the game stand right now, it could happen.
In an interview with MassLive.com, former Colorado Rockies pitcher and current Boston Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh expressed the possibility that some Major League players could choose to sit out the season over concerns stemming from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
While McHugh was optimistic that baseball will return this season, he was also skeptical of the desire of every Major League player, coach, and umpire to return to the diamond as soon as the green light was given.
"“We’re in a situation right now where you can’t make this mandatory,” McHugh said. “You can’t tell a guy you have to come play or else your roster spot is not going to be here when you come back. You can’t tell a guy to risk his life and the life of his family and the lives of anyone he chooses to be around to come play this game.”"
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McHugh said he believed there would have to be paperwork signed by everyone involved with returning to the field highlighting the protection and personal risk associated with playing the game that we all want to see return as soon as possible.
Some of the concerns raised by McHugh are valid points, including the thought of quarantining players away from their families for extended periods of time so the season could begin and be played. A married father of two, McHugh is one of several Major League players who have said giving up their family for baseball was very much a less-than-desirable option.
McHugh, who pitched in four games for the Rockies in 2013 after being traded to Colorado by the New York Mets in exchange for Eric Young Jr., likely summed up the feelings of many players with this statement to MassLive.com:
"“As long as this virus is still out there and as long as we don’t have a treatment or vaccine, there’s going to be risk inherent in leaving your house. For me, as a major league baseball player and as a husband and father, I want to make sure I’m protecting myself and my family, first and foremost.”"
While MLB fans are anxious to see their teams return to the field, there are also likely some anxious players, coaches, and umpires about what that return will look like. There are also plenty of questions about what would happen if someone said they weren’t going to play until after a vaccine for COVID-19 had been released.
Among them is the question of roster spots. If a player chooses family over baseball, is that player put on the restricted list, which boils down to an excused but unpaid absence? These players do not count against the active roster and can be activated at any time. Could a player start the season on some form of the restricted list but be part of the team later in the season once health worries might subside?
With several questions still lurking about the number of roster spots and what will happen to the minor leagues when and if play resumes, MLB teams could have plenty of options at their disposal when it comes to filling any voids by choosing health and family over the game.
It’s also worth asking what the perception of that player who chose not to return would be within the clubhouse and fan base. If a player missed half the season to ensure his own health or that of his family’s, would he be welcomed back? One would hope so, but the question must still be asked.
Of course, there are many assumptions at work here, including the biggest one being MLB’s return this season. However, just like there are various levels of concern over COVID-19 within society, the same could hold true within MLB circles as well. It’s another item that bears watching as baseball tries to have some semblance of a season in 2020.