It’s been a whirlwind week for baseball and sports in general as the country wrestles with the outbreak of coronavirus and how to protect players and fans. We’ve seen the NBA and MLS suspend their seasons, almost every conference tournament in the NCAA get canceled and drastic changes to March Madness.
Baseball was among the last dominoes to fall. The league announced Thursday afternoon that operations would cease at 4 p.m. ET Thursday. The league said opening day — originally scheduled for March 26 — will be pushed back at least two weeks, but could still change depending on what happens between now and then.
In a matter of four days, MLB went from issuing policies to limit clubhouse access to a full-scale shutdown of spring training and a postponement of opening day.
This leaves a lot of unanswered questions for baseball fans — some that simply can’t be answered right now. Here’s what we know currently about the shutdown of baseball and what to expect next.
What does this mean for the start of the regular season?
In short: We still don’t know. April 9 is now a target date, but not a concrete date. It would make sense, now that baseball has suspended games, to wait out the coronavirus threat and begin the season at a time that is deemed safe by everyone.
That date, however, is far earlier than some local and state governments are ready to plan for. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, for instance, recommended all Chicago teams refrain from playing in front of fans until May 1.
Gov. Pritzker just said he spoke to all owners of Chicago’s major sports teams and asked them not to have home games or, if they have games, not to have fans in attendance until May 1. He said all owners agreed to that request.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) March 12, 2020
There’s enough time to adjust the schedule and keep the playoffs that MLB won’t have to be pressured into a decision, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan has reported many in the sport do not envision opening day occurring before May.
What are MLB’s options for reshaping its season?
We’ve already heard talk of MLB wanting to move regular-season games to avoid places where coronavirus is more common. Seattle, for instance. MLB could decide to swap home and away cities. Another option is keeping everybody in their spring complexes and starting the season there.
But that plan was floated prior to the league’s suspension of spring training and delaying of the regular season. The situation will remain fluid, like most everything coronavirus related.
Could MLB shorten its season?
Compared to the NBA, one advantage MLB has is a big runway in front of it with plenty of room for tinkering. Baseball could now scale back the schedule to 140-150 games and it wouldn’t really hinder things too much. Heck, it could be looked at as an experiment for what a shorter MLB season would look like for players, fans and ownership, since that’s something that’s been proposed in recent years.
At this point, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy says MLB is hopeful of adding games lost on the front end of the schedule to the back end, which would push the regular season into October. Kennedy also noted that thinking is “subject to change” pending future developments.
What happens to players now?
Sources told Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown on Friday that many players are being sent home from camps.
Players in many camps are being advised today to go home, according to sources.— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) March 13, 2020
This is a change from the state of play even earlier Friday, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post had reported MLB and MLBPA officials were meeting to determine the next steps and indicated major leaguers were likely to be asked to remain at spring training sites near team medical staff, while minor leaguers could be sent home. That situation may be changing quickly.
One MLB executive told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal prior to the league’s decision to cancel spring training that he expected teams to bunker down in their complexes in Florida or Arizona and continue with light workouts until there’s a firm resolution.
What activities players — and especially pitchers — are allowed to do at the facilities will be a factor in determining how much time the sport needs to prepare for the eventual beginning of the regular season.
More specific details could be available later on Friday.
What do players think?
Jason Kipnis offers a good look into the mind of a player right now with this tweet:
And there it is..... early questions from players: do we go home now? Stay and train? How/when do we start back up? Have another 2 wk spring then start where schedule picks up? Do we still get paid?... this is wild— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) March 12, 2020
Meanwhile, Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton says this is much bigger than baseball:
Giancarlo Stanton a few minutes ago on the cancellation of ST: "It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the proper measure we need to take now given the situation the country’s in and the world’s in. It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports."— Erik Boland (@eboland11) March 12, 2020
What else have teams been doing to stay healthy?
Numerous teams have pulled their scouts off the road amid coronavirus fears. When news of this broke Wednesday, it was the first indication that a full-scale shutdown of MLB was likely on the way.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman explained why Thursday.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman, speaking from West Palm before NYY-WAS game, said the team has sent pro scouts home. "Every day, we're sending our scouts in a scenario where they were here every day in a crowded situation. We're going to pull back, temporarily suspend that coverage."— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) March 12, 2020
Has baseball seen anything like this before?
Sort of, though under far different circumstances. In 1995, after the strike ended, players were fast-tracked into the season with a shorter spring training and extra roster allowances once games started. That could provide something of a blueprint for a re-ramping up of the season. The fact that this is happening in spring training allows teams to keep preparation relatively under control, compared to if players were spread around the world at their offseason homes.
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