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What does the postponement of the 2020 Olympics mean for the MLB season?

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Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Tuesday morning, the inevitable happened. The 2020 Olympics, scheduled to begin in Tokyo, Japan July 24, were postponed:

What felt like the last major sporting event untouched by the current strain of the coronavirus — known formally as COVID-19 — the 2020 Olympics served as a glimmer of hope for the entire globe. But on Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 by about one year.

The Opening Ceremony had been planned for July 24.

The 2020 Major League Baseball season has also been postponed. The latest announcement from the league, which happened about a week ago, said that the earliest possible starting date for the 2020 season would be around mid-May.

That seems quite optimistic at this point. My feeling is that the absolute earliest we could see a MLB regular season in 2020 would be Memorial Day, and that’s if absolutely everything goes right. The Cubs’ series in London against the Cardinals, scheduled for June 13 and 14, has not yet been cancelled or postponed, but it seems likely that will happen.

Now, the Olympics are a different sort of event from a MLB season. The Olympics bring thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators together in one city for a two-week period. MLB games are played in 26 different metropolitan areas and involve a few dozen athletes for each game. Granted, there are hundreds of other workers involved in staging a baseball game and anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 spectators who attend each game.

So let’s say July 1 might be a potential date for starting up a MLB season. Players would first have to have at least three to four weeks of “spring training,” which might involve intrasquad games instead of playing other teams. If this sort of “training” didn’t happen until June, teams might not be able to do it at their spring facilities, particularly in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar over 100 degrees by June.

If July 1 is a starting date, we might not see an All-Star Game at all. Or, per this report from Hannah Keyser and Tim Brown at Yahoo Sports, it could be moved to a date during the postseason:

A team official said he sees almost no scenarios in which the All-Star Game is played on the date it is scheduled. One alternative that’s been discussed is setting the All-Star Game for an eventual day between the league championship series and the World Series, a showcase featuring players from all but the two remaining teams.

There is almost no doubt that the schedule as originally planned won’t happen. MLB is working on a number of different “contingencies,” as they put it, for the beginning of a season. It is almost certain they would try to make up as many of the games scheduled for March, April and May (and June, if July 1 is the date) in October, with the postseason then played in November. Weather in northern cities in October is generally better than it is in April and you can still play baseball in Chicago as late as mid-November most years with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

If that happened, even starting as late as July 1 might allow for a season of as many as 120 games, possibly with some doubleheaders added, although Tom Verducci notes:

The schedule began earlier than ever this year to avoid playing on Election Day, Nov. 3. Even if the postseason calendar is extended so that World Series Game 7 is played on Nov. 15, MLB will not play any games on Election Day.

Keyser and Brown add this:

Because it would allow more regular-season games, general managers are warming to the idea of a neutral-site World Series.

If this is a one-off idea, just for this year, I’m perfectly okay with it. Pretty much everything in life has been thrown up in the air due to the novel coronavirus, and a one-year neutral-site World Series could generate some interest in the game.

Personally, I think there will be some sort of baseball season in 2020. There is, of course, the possibility that things get so bad that the entire season would have to be cancelled. I certainly hope that’s not the case. If that does happen, though, we’re then in territory where service time would have to be negotiated for players who would lose an entire year of their careers. MLB and the MLB Players Association are currently negotiating about service time, which would seem to be a very tricky issue to resolve.

Obviously, professional sports like baseball aren’t a priority to life as it’s being lived in 2020. Nevertheless, sports are also a way to bring people together and once the current crisis passes and life begins to return to normal, they will be an important means of making life feel more “normal.”

Let’s hope that all happens sooner rather than later.

Poll

The 2020 MLB season will begin on or around...

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    June 1
    (121 votes)
  • 33%
    July 1
    (157 votes)
  • 8%
    August 1
    (38 votes)
  • 1%
    Later than August 1
    (5 votes)
  • 32%
    There won’t be a 2020 season, it will be cancelled
    (153 votes)
474 votes total Vote Now