Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement on health and safety measures for the 2020 season Tuesday, paving the way for a July start, but the deal didn’t come to fruition until after the 5 p.m. ET deadline. The delay resulted from discussions on what the league would do if it were to start the season, only to suspend or cancel it in progress, Andy Martino of SNY reports. In addressing the issue, the league and the players updated the season agreement they made back in March, according to Martino, who obtained the passage.
A piece of the accord now reads: “The Commissioner retains the right to suspend or cancel the 2020 championship season or postseason, or any games therein, in the event that (i) restrictions on travel throughout the United States are imposed; (ii) there is a material change in circumstances such that the Commissioner determines, after consultation with recognized medical experts and the Players Association, that it poses an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff to stage those games, even without fans in attendance; or (III) The number of players who are unavailable to perform services due to COVID-19 is so great that the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.
The first two parts were already agreed on, while the third was put in on Tuesday, per Martino, who reports that there’s no specific number of COVID-19 cases among players that would force an in-season shutdown. But if teams can’t field competitive rosters, or if too many clubs can’t complete full seasons, the league could close up shop during the campaign.
While this comes off as a doomsday scenario for baseball, perhaps it shouldn’t be fully ruled out with COVID-19 continuing to run amok. The coronavirus has affected several teams and players in recent weeks, and it continues to take its toll on the general population. The United States set a single-day record for virus cases for the third straight day Friday, exceeding the 40,000 mark for the first time, according to the Washington Post. Thirteen states, including seven with major league teams (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Washington), have established new single-day records for cases over the past week.
Houston, home of the Astros, has been among many areas hit hard of late. Coronavirus tests in the Houston region were at 3 percent earlier this month, but they’ve risen to 14 percent this week, per the Texas Medical Center (via ESPN.com).
Dr. David Persse, Health Authority for the Houston Health Department, expressed a great deal of concern to ESPN about staging games in the city, saying: “If the public’s health is threatened, I will take a stand. From an operational standpoint, I find myself in the position where I’m going to have to be the one, that if I think it’s going in the wrong direction, to make a stand.”
If MLB and government officials deem Houston or any other city unsafe to play in, the league would move teams to other parks, a league source told ESPN.
The league itself issued a statement to ESPN saying, in part, that “we we will play in a particular location only when we have approval from all relevant governmental authorities. To date, all governmental authorities have been favorably inclined to allow play, at least in empty stadiums, based on our extensive protocols. This situation may change as developments with respect to the virus occur. If and when that happens, we will make adjustments to comply with any change in governmental policy.”
MLB added that it plans to “make operational decisions with the safety of our players and staff as the foremost consideration.”
Regarding whether MLB will allow teams to host fans during a potential 2020 season, league sources informed ESPN that decision will be up to the commissioner’s office and local officials.