MLB broadcasters expected to call 2020 road games from off-site location, source says

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Imagine if Roy Halladay’s perfect game in 2010, Cole Hamels’ no-hitter in 2015, or any other road game in modern Phillies history was called by broadcasters who weren’t actually in the ballpark where it happened.

Welcome to baseball in the coronavirus age.

If there’s a Major League Baseball season in 2020 — the league and Players Association have not yet agreed on compensation for players or finalized health and safety protocols — radio and television announcers have been told to prepare to call road games remotely, using monitors either in a studio or at their team’s home ballpark, a source familiar with the situation said Thursday.

It’s likely the Phillies broadcast teams — Tom McCarthy, John Kruk, Ben Davis, and Gregg Murphy on television; Scott Franzke, Larry Andersen, and Kevin Frandsen on radio — would be stationed at Citizens Bank Park when the club is on the road.

The decision to leave broadcasters at home would be part of MLB’s plan to limit the size of each team’s traveling party even for road games that are within driving distance — in the Phillies’ case, New York, Washington, and possibly Baltimore and Boston depending on divisional realignment and scheduling. Broadcasters typically travel with the teams.

In a 67-page first draft of a health and safety manual that was presented to the Players Association three weeks ago, MLB outlined procedures for staging a season in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 108,000 people in the United States. Road teams would face particularly austere behavioral restrictions, including not being allowed to leave the hotel other than to go to the ballpark. They also are prohibited from using hotel gyms and other shared facilities, or riding in taxis, Ubers or other forms of mass transit.

By prohibiting radio and television announcers from traveling, MLB would also enable better social distancing for home team broadcast crews, which could make use of both the home and visiting booths rather than cramming into a typically confined space.

MLB and the Players Association remain at odds over an economic plan to start the season. Specifically, the union is unwilling to reopen a March 26 agreement that calls for players to receive prorated salaries based on games played. Team owners claim they will lose at least 40% of their revenues without fans at games and want to impose additional pay cuts on the players.

Negotiations were going slowly before reaching a standstill this week. If the sides can’t reach an accord, MLB contends that the March 26 agreement authorizes commissioner Rob Manfred to unilaterally implement a schedule. The league is making plans for a potential 50-game mini-season, according to multiple reports, possibly as a way of getting the players to agree to less than 100% of their prorated salaries.

Like so many compromises that will have to be made for sports to return during the pandemic, calling games from off-site locations isn’t ideal. It can be done, though.

ESPN has been doing almost daily remote telecasts of Korean Baseball Organization games since early May, with broadcasters working from their home studios and doing live calls of games that are being played nearly 7,000 miles away.

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