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Don’t expect a 162-game MLB season in 2021

The pandemic likely has other plans.

Empty seats at a 2020 Cubs game
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Buried in this long article by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News about baseball’s offseason and free agency for the 2021 season is this nugget about what’s possibly coming for Major League Baseball next spring:

As one club exec told me: “Even if there’s vaccines available next month, with all the COVID restrictions there’s no way we’re going to be able to have spring training in February and March.”

More likely, we’re looking at spring training in April and a regular “fannies in the seats” season beginning sometime in May — likely shortened to around 130 games, which will mean more lost revenue for the clubs.

Today is December 1. We have all read about the large number of people who traveled to be with family and friends for Thanksgiving last week, and the possibility that some of those folks, unknowingly, might have passed along the coronavirus at holiday gatherings. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of a “surge upon surge” of COVID-19 cases that could happen in the coming weeks, and the same thing could happen if people do similar travel around Christmas, or gather in large parties on New Year’s Eve.

COVID-19 vaccines are in development, to be sure, but none yet has FDA approval and even when they do, the vaccines are likely to go to healthcare workers, immunocompromised people and older Americans first, with wide distribution possibly not until spring. Even then, some of these vaccines will require multiple doses.

I’ll stop the COVID descriptions here, but my point is that we’re probably looking at another month or two of rising caseloads, and the unnamed MLB executive quoted by Bill Madden is almost certainly correct. We’re not going to be anywhere near able to host large gatherings like spring training games in this country by late February.

More likely: We’ll have “spring training” held at MLB parks in April and early May, much as “Summer Camp” was held last July, and a season beginning sometime around Memorial Day. 130 games, as Madden speculated, is probably optimistic — more likely, it’ll be somewhere closer to 108 games, which would be two-thirds of a normal season.

Further, it’s unlikely fans would be allowed at most MLB parks in early April. That would mean reduced revenues again for ballclubs, and thus they’d want to pay players less money. I can absolutely see owners wanting shortened seasons so they can pro-rate player salaries again, until they can get fans back in ballparks.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news as we get deeper into winter. But I’ve been thinking for a long time that there wouldn’t be a 162-game season in 2021. And with each passing day, I am more and more convinced that will be the case next year.


The 2021 MLB season...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    ... will be 162 games, and start April 1 as scheduled
    (90 votes)
  • 25%
    ... will be about 130 games and start in early May
    (137 votes)
  • 40%
    ... will be about 108 games and start around Memorial Day
    (219 votes)
  • 15%
    ... will be fewer than 108 games
    (83 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (12 votes)
541 votes total Vote Now