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MLB really ought to delay the start of the 2021 season

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... because the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

As we have learned in recent days, Commissioner Rob Manfred has sent a memo to all 30 teams telling them to prepare to begin the 2021 season on time.

This is prudent. If conditions permit baseball to be played “normally” in 2021, teams will have to be prepared for such an event.

I’m here to tell you that I don’t think that’s going to be possible.

Today is January 18. If MLB begins on schedule, about four weeks from now pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring camps in Arizona and Florida.

Arizona — you know, that place where a few days ago it was reported that by some measures, the state has the highest COVID-19 caseloads in the world:

Arizona, which suffered a massive outbreak during the summer case surge concentrated in the Sun Belt, has the worst per-capita new case numbers in the world. The state’s seven-day average for new cases per million residents yesterday was 1,316, making Arizona’s outbreak substantially more severe than any national outbreak in the world for which we have data. Arizona is also once again reporting the highest per-capita hospitalizations in the US. In the Phoenix area, hospital systems are pleading for additional public-health mitigation measures and are preparing to ration care. The state currently has no mask order in place, and indoor dining is open up to at 50 percent capacity.

Having concerts like these that happened in the Phoenix area over the weekend isn’t going to help those numbers any.

And into this, Major League Baseball wants to bring literally hundreds of baseball players and staff only a few weeks from now? This doesn’t seem like a good idea.

We are also living through a time where a new, more contagious COVID-19 strain could mean more spikes in cases, according to the New York Times:

Federal health officials warned on Friday that a far more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the United States by March, and would likely lead to a wrenching surge in cases and deaths that would further burden overwhelmed hospitals.

While it is true that vaccinations have begun in many parts of the country, it still could be several months before enough people are vaccinated to get to “herd immunity” where fans might actually be permitted to go back to large gatherings like baseball games. It is true that some fans were allowed at NFL playoff games the last two weekends, but that’s still a very small percentage of capacity — and the football stadiums involved have seating capacities twice as large as most baseball parks.

So I’m calling on Manfred to delay the start of spring training and the season. So is Ken Davidoff of the New York Post:

We appear to have months, not weeks, to go before approaching herd immunity via vaccine. So why not wait until March 15 to open camps, therefore inflicting less risk upon the players and team personnel as well as the general populations of Arizona and Florida? Remember also that it can get chilly in these two states as camps open — if not New York cold, then cool enough to compel people to stay inside most of the time — and kicking the can down the road on pitchers and catchers would mitigate that factor thanks to warmer temperatures.

That would be about a month’s delay. MLB has been pretty firm about wanting to finish the regular season by the beginning of October and have the postseason end by around November 1, and players aren’t going to want to have salaries cut for a shortened season as happened in 2020. Davidoff has an idea for that, too:

MLB’s broadcast partners, particularly Fox, want to air the baseball playoffs in October. MLB and Fox employ many smart people who you’d think could figure out a great way to market, say, a Thanksgiving World Series game (which might have to be at a neutral site due to weather concerns), and perhaps more fans in the seats for a larger portion of the campaign would balance out decreased TV revenues from a schedule change.

If such a switch can’t be executed? Then play fewer games — shoot, you could get close to 162 by scheduling a bunch of seven-inning doubleheaders — as the players get their full pay.

November baseball playoffs — likely in a bubble for weather and/or health reasons — could be fun, and yes, I’d think Fox and MLB could figure out a TV schedule where baseball could work out game times and not have to compete with other sports.

Pushing back the season by (say) a month would also avoid April games in cold-weather cities. In a year where COVID-19 postponements could happen, why add to that problem with potential bad weather in places like Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, New York and Boston?

And if baseball really doesn’t want to play through November? Sure, why not play some doubleheaders with seven-inning games? Most people seemed to like those — I was one of those people.

We are on the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. To me, though, playing the 2021 baseball season “as scheduled, full speed ahead” is a really bad idea. Push it back a month right now, instead of starting in February and having to put things on pause.

Poll

The 2021 MLB season should start...

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    ... on time, as scheduled, February for spring training, April 1 for Opening Day
    (161 votes)
  • 32%
    ... delayed about a month, as noted in the article
    (123 votes)
  • 22%
    ... delayed longer than a month
    (84 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (7 votes)
375 votes total Vote Now