Major League Baseball’s owners have approved a restart plan for MLB and, in keeping with the acrimony and suspicion between management and the players we’ve seen for the past three months, sent it as more or less an ultimatum to the players association. But it does mean the sport is coming back. Probably! The plan includes a 60-game season beginning at the end of July followed by the regular 10-team playoff. While a season capped at 60 games would have denied the Washington Nationals a title last year, the information we can learn from that number of baseball games is equivalent to about 11 NBA games or 10 NFL games. It will be enough to have some sense of who the best teams are, even if in baseball the best teams win the World Series only about 25 percent of the time. While the Hot Takedown team shudders to contemplate a chaotic run to the title by, say, the Miami Marlins, it is excited to see Mookie Betts in a Dodgers uniform, to watch Mike Trout’s quest for a single playoff win, and to litigate who the more rotten cheaters are: the Astros or the Yankees.
Next, we take a broader look at how sports are handling the coronavirus now that a wide array of activities are reopening. The team agrees that football, which hasn’t really had to (publicly) reckon with the challenges to ensure the safety of all its participants, has the most problems ahead of it — particularly college football, where rosters are even larger and social distancing protocols harder to enforce. But even with all the bubble systems and bans on spitting sunflower seeds you could ask for, a lot of the risk of spreading the virus depends on what happens when players travel to the court or the field, not what happens on it. The health risks of the virus probably won’t stop most sports from happening, but as demonstrated by Novak Djokovic’s ill-fated exhibition tournament, which left three tennis players (including Djokovic) and two coaches testing positive for the virus, COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon.
Finally, FiveThirtyEight copy editor Santul Nerkar makes a triumphant return to the Rabbit Hole to talk about how the NBA, largely seen as the most socially conscious major sports league, has actually dropped the ball when it comes to hiring Black coaches and general managers. Some of it might be down to the rise in analytics leading to more “nontraditional” hires, who have been mostly white in the past few years. But because most Black coaches are former players, the myth that they aren’t as up on modern methods might also contribute to the falloff in hiring. That myth could change in a decade or so when Steph Curry or James Harden are ready to coach. But we all agree with Santul: The league shouldn’t wait.
What we’re looking at this week:
- Neil on the MLB players we can’t wait to watch when the season finally starts.
- FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik on what a short season means for MLB.
- And Santul on the NBA’s problem with hiring — and retaining — Black coaches.