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Rob Manfred tells MLB teams to be ready to start on time, have full 162-game season

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Don’t count on it.

Al Yellon

We keep hearing that Major League Baseball wants to begin the 2021 season as scheduled, and we heard it again late Monday, via Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred informed clubs Monday that they should be preparing for spring training to start on time in February and to plan on a full 162-game season being played, three people with direct knowledge of the conference call told USA TODAY Sports.

The people spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Major League Baseball was hoping to delay the season by at least a month to provide more time for players and fans to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, enabling fans to get back into ballparks earlier. But the Major League Baseball Players Association vigorously fought it.

This is a summary of the issue that’s faced baseball since last season ended. Owners don’t want to play any more games in empty ballparks — but as Nightengale hints, that might not happen as early as the season’s scheduled beginning April 1.

However, this note from Nightengale’s article is interesting:

MLB and the union are undergoing negotiations for health and safety protocols, as well as whether there will be a universal DH and expanded playoffs.

It’s not too much of a stretch, I don’t think, that these negotiations could possibly be expanded to include a later reporting time for Spring Training and a shortened season. The NBA began their season last month, shortened from 82 to 72 games, and has already run into the need for postponements, including tonight’s Bulls/Celtics game. The NHL begins this week with a season shortened from 82 to 56 games.

The need for a possible later start to Spring Training is pointed up by the fact that Arizona, which hosts half of MLB’s teams for spring camp, is now one of the worst coronavirus hotspots. That might or might not improve over the next few weeks. Does MLB really want to send hundreds of players and staff into Arizona, where pitchers and catchers would be reporting about a month from now? No dates have officially been set for those reporting dates, and neither the Cubs nor any other Arizona-based team has sold any single-game tickets for spring games, which they certainly would have by now in a normal year.

Meanwhile, per Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times, MLB is not going to ask any fans who are permitted at games for proof of vaccination against COVID-19, and:

The league said it anticipated that state and local authorities would require “pod” seating, at least at the start of the season, with tickets sold in a “pod” or group and at least six feet between the groups. If authorities do not require such seating, MLB would have to approve any seating arrangement that would reduce the distance between groups to less than six feet.

The league also said it would mandate that fans wear a mask at all times except when eating or drinking at their seats; that social distancing be enforced in lines to enter the ballpark, for concessions and merchandise, and when leaving the ballpark; that hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations be widely available; and that a buffer zone of at least six feet be established between fans and the playing field.

All of these things are prudent, but as Shaikin also notes for teams local to southern California:

The Angels are scheduled to open the season at Angel Stadium on April 1, with the Dodgers scheduled for their home opener April 9. The current California guidance does not allow fans at professional sporting events unless the spread of the virus is considered “moderate.” The spread of the virus in Los Angeles and Orange counties is now considered “widespread.”

What could possibly go wrong? Shaikin’s article also notes:

Fans will not be permitted to watch morning workouts or other pregame activities “unless those events are held in the ballpark under the same seating plan as for games.”

So for anyone thinking they could watch Cubs spring workouts on the back fields in Mesa, that’s apparently not going to be allowed.

Further to this, Nightengale also reports on a memo regarding seating at regular-season games that was circulated to teams:

“The Office of the Commissioner understands the need for clubs to plan for next season,’’ the memo reads, “but MLB’s policies ultimately will depend on the public health situation in the United States, which is difficult to predict this far in advance of the season. In particular, the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution rates is preventing our experts from making predictions about the spring and summer with specificity. As such, MLB’s guidance on fan attendance may change in the coming weeks as circumstances change, and may also be modified later as the season progresses and conditions improve. ...

“Changes in government orders, particularly at the federal level, may necessitate changes to MLB’s policies.’’

“As always, we await developments.”

It’s absolutely prudent for MLB to ask teams to “plan” for a normal season, because in the event one can be held, they’d certainly want to have a plan in place. It’s certainly possible that by mid- or late summer, fans might be able to be back in ballparks. My hope is that they also have multiple contingency plans in place in case the season needs to be shortened.

Poll

The 2021 MLB season...

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    ... will start on time and have 162 games
    (46 votes)
  • 40%
    ... will be delayed until around the beginning of May
    (66 votes)
  • 26%
    ... will start after May
    (42 votes)
  • 4%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (7 votes)
161 votes total Vote Now