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Joe Maddon thinks baseball can change for better during coronavirus shutdown

Ever the optimist, the Angels manager says “this is the perfect petri dish to experiment with ... to find out what we like, what we don’t like and move forward from there.”
Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon addresses the media during spring training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 11, 2020. [GREG BEACHAM | AP]

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LOS ANGELES — Even during a shutdown prompted by the outbreak of a virus, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon is thinking of ways to push baseball’s boundaries.

How long would games last if pitchers were forced to heed a 20-second clock counting down the time they have to throw their next pitch?

Would the sport generate more interest if players wore microphones during games — and not only during spring training or All-Star exhibitions?

Can teams adjust to playing by international rules that call for a runner to be placed on second base in extra-inning games?

Maddon said Wednesday that those topics, which commissioner Rob Manfred has championed in his effort to improve pace of play, should be explored as the league monitors the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and deliberates over when it should allow baseball activities to resume.

“There’s so many adjustments out there that this is the perfect petri dish to experiment with right now to find out what we like, what we don’t like and move forward from there,” Maddon said.

Of course, getting to the point where baseball can be played again is the challenge. In accordance with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricting large gatherings, the earliest MLB could begin the season is May 10. That unofficial target date has become increasingly unlikely as the coronavirus pandemic has widened.

Maddon, a self-described optimist as Rays fans got to know in his nine seasons as manager (2006-14), still believes a significant portion of the typical 162-game season can be played if people adhere to social-distancing measures. He thinks teams could even begin the season playing without spectators to aid the containment of COVID-19.

But would owners, who have stakes in a league that takes in an estimated $11 billion per year, be willing to sacrifice revenue from tickets and concessions?

“There won’t be the money via the families in the stands, but there’s got to be a financial benefit somehow, from either television or streaming,” Maddon, 66, said on the phone from Tempe, Ariz., the spring-training home of the Angels. “I don’t know how that’s all gonna play out. I don’t know how attractive that would be. But you’d have to believe something would be better than nothing.

“As a manager, and as players, I think we would all be eager to do something like that.”

Such drastic measures could provide a distraction during this time of crisis.

“Whatever it takes to get this thing rolling again to make it interesting and not lose the momentum and definitely not lose the season,” Maddon said. “Everybody is going to be champing at the bit so much that nobody is gonna complain about anything. We’re just gonna get out there and understand how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do. And get back on the field entertaining and being part of the fabric again, which we need and which the public of our country needs.”

In addition to expressing encouragement about the future of baseball, Maddon emphasized the importance of following recommendations laid out by the CDC and other government entities. Maddon mentioned the looming threat of the health care system’s infrastructure becoming overwhelmed by those who do not take precautions seriously.

“Why would you not want to listen to health experts right now?” Maddon said. “I’ve got an 87-year-old mother. A lot of us have people that are a little bit older that are at higher risk. Why would you not want to be a benefit to those people by adhering to the rules?”

He believes part of the dilemma can be solved with positive messaging. It is why he spent most of his 30-minute conference call, his first group interview since MLB halted spring training and delayed the season last Thursday, urging others to remain positive.

The Angels and the rest of the baseball world must carry on with little direction. Angels players have retreated to their homes. They are coming up with ways to remain ready for baseball’s return.

Maddon is in isolation in an Arizona RV park with his wife, Jaye. They established a routine of fixing meals in a slow cooker, reading, biking the two-mile perimeter of the grounds and watching television. He recently caught a rerun of the 1983 “pine tar game” in which Bud Black, the former Angels coach and current manager of the Colorado Rockies, pitched for the Kansas City Royals. He exchanged messages with his longtime friend.

Social distancing, Maddon surmised, might not be all bad.

“Why can’t we look at it from that perspective and just take this respite, take this reset button, and figure things out and be helpful to society at large?” Maddon said. “In the meantime, figure out some things about yourself. … Look for the positives and try to glean from this moment, while we are doing the right things for everybody else.”

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