Amidst the continued uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball is hoping to push the start of the 2021 season into May, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. This would mean a delayed start to Spring Training and a shorter season than the normal 162-game schedule.
“I don’t see any way spring training starts in February,” an American League owner said. “Zero chance of that. I don’t care if we play 140 games, 120 games or 80 games, we have to make sure everyone is safe to do this right.”
The league and the owners want players and all team personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before arriving at spring camp, which doesn’t seem feasible by early-to-mid-February (the usual start date for Spring Training) given that coronavirus vaccines are still in the early stages of distribution.
“I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to Spring Training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it,” an unnamed National League owner tells Nightengale. “But to have 162 games, and start Spring Training at the normal time without players being vaccinated, that’s just crazy. Does Arizona and Florida, with their cases spiking, really want teams with about 125 people in each organization coming to town without vaccines?”
Delaying the season would also allow for not only players, but fans to be vaccinated as the treatments become more widespread. Another season of empty-stadium baseball isn’t at all palatable to the league or the owners, and while it doesn’t seem feasible that we’ll see full stadiums anytime soon, a downturn in COVID-19 numbers could result in at least some ballparks being permitted to sell tickets this summer, if under the types of social distancing guidelines we saw during the NLCS and World Series.
Any reduction in the season would have to be negotiated with the players union, and Nightengale says that the league and the MLBPA have yet to begin discussions about the season’s length (though the two sides have been talking about such issues as the implementation of the designated hitter in the National League). As one might imagine, the players aren’t likely to accept the reduced salaries that would come with a lesser number of games, so fans could be in for another protracted set of public negotiations akin to what we saw in the lead-up to the 2020 season.
In the union’s view, as Nightengale writes, “it proved a year ago that teams can safely adapt to protocols,” so the MLBPA wants to play a 162-game schedule under the same health and safety guidelines as the 2020 season. While a schedule delay isn’t out of the question, Nightengale hears from multiple players that “the ideal scenario…would be to delay the season for everyone to be vaccinated, but to extend it a month where a full season can be played with everyone still receiving their full salary.” However, that idea won’t fly with the league, as “it would still result in massive revenue losses for teams with restricted or no fans,” plus there isn’t any desire on the league’s part to stretch the postseason into late November or December.