Yankees Editorial: Health concerns should convince Yankees players not to play


Health should be the first concern of all Yankees players

While MLB owners try to financially entice their players to participate in half a season in 2020, it is health issues that should persuade Yankee players not to play. There are no economic incentives that the Yankee brass can offer that can come close to eclipsing the short and long-term health risks of playing baseball at this time.

Both the MLB owners and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) have spent much of May trying to reach an agreement on how to salvage at least half a season of professional baseball. Most Yankee fans are looking forward to a resumption of baseball and hope that an agreement can be reached.

Without fans in the stands, nearly all the income for owners would be generated by television contracts. A major sticking point is how players, including members of the Bronx Bombers, should be compensated for playing only 81 games.

Regardless of what algorithm is used to determine financial compensation, there is no way that any amount of income can make up for the health risks that Yankee players would face by playing baseball during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If a financial agreement cannot be reached between the players and the owners, at least Yankee players will have a future of baseball to look forward to. Like the players, wealthy club owners stand to make a significant amount of money, but they will not be exposed to the same short- and potentially long-term health risks as the players in 2020.

Putting the issue of the coronavirus pandemic aside for a moment, the plan is to have the players spend the second half of June (two weeks) in Spring Training. However, there is absolutely no way that most Yankee players can get back into shape in merely two weeks. Even if many of those in pinstripes tried to stay in shape by working out during their recent time away, the rigor of Spring Training is an entirely different animal.

Players already have difficulty getting ready for the regular MLB season in three to four times that amount of time during a normal Spring Training period following the offseason. Pitchers and catchers require even more time to get into shape (and sync), and they normally begin Spring Training a couple of weeks before other position players do.

Two weeks is not enough time for all Yankee players to rebuild their strength, stamina, and timing required for the regular-season, and serious injuries are likely to result. Veteran pitchers such as Aroldis Chapman, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka especially require enough time to get into regular-season shape. They are particularly vulnerable in this regard.

Rushing players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Hicks back could result in them returning to the IL and, even worse, experiencing long-term injuries again. This is not a risk worth taking for either the players or the Yankees as an organization.

More than any other club, injuries should be a HUGE concern for the Bombers. Last year players took turns hopping on and off on what seemed to be a never-ending IL merry-go-round, with many of them spending long periods on the IL. Given the team’s recent history with injuries, one would think that Yankee management and especially Yankee players would be extremely dubious about having only two weeks of Spring Training to prepare for the regular season.

Yankees should focus on health during coronavirus pandemic

If rushing Yankee players into shape is by itself not enough of a reason to be concerned, the Yanks must also deal with COVID-19, a highly contagious and dangerous virus. No vaccine nor drugs exist that can prevent or mitigate the worst effects of the virus.

While COVID-19 has negatively impacted the health of older people the most, being young does not exempt anyone from experiencing long-term lung scaring, neurological problems, and other serious health effects assuming one survives the disease.

The owners and MLB have submitted plans to the MLBPA concerning player safety and testing. Such plans include temperature checks, social distancing guidelines, wearing masks, changing at home and coming to the ballpark, showering at home, discouraging the use of hydrotherapy pools at the stadium, testing, prohibiting spitting and high-fives, and other changes in routine.

Questions remain involving testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, quarantine rules and procedures, the availability of medical personnel on-site, protection for high-risk players and family members, access to pre- and post-game therapy, and sanitization procedures.

Even if these questions can be satisfactorily addressed, it will be nearly impossible to regulate player behavior outside the ballpark. The Bombers have several young players who may not take the health risks seriously, and older personnel and staff who could suffer the most if they are infected.

What about traveling on airplanes, eating in restaurants, and staying in hotels? Will players be protected from an infected flight attendant or waiter seeking an autograph or a hotel staff person bringing towels or food to their room?

Yankee players cannot be completely isolated from the rest of the world while traveling, lodging, and playing baseball. Even if numerous precautions are taken, the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 can still lead to many Yanks becoming infected and requiring hospitalization.

And what about Yankee players who decide not to play due to preexisting medical conditions or because family members have such conditions. Do they still get paid?

Even if the MLBPA and owners can reach an agreement to resume playing baseball, they still will need to satisfy state and local guidelines concerning social distancing and mass gatherings. Public officials will need to be consulted and, in the end, approve whatever agreements are made between the owners and the players.

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Star players who are well paid, such as Blake Snell, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout, have seriously questioned whether playing baseball in 2020 is simply too big a risk and not worth the money they will receive. Yankee players should not risk the long-term health of anyone on the team for short-term financial gain.