On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended halting public gatherings of more than 50 people, including sporting events, for eight weeks — which MLB cited in saying, “The opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance.”
Cardinals pitcher Andrew Miller, a longtime union leader, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “It’s going to be a while, I think. I’ve heard June 1. I’ve heard Memorial Day. Some people think later than that. That discussion is going to be interesting.”
The new, though nebulous, timeline — with the second week of May now representing a best-case scenario — makes it even more unlikely baseball can contest an entire 162-game regular season in 2020.
Baseball officials “remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” the MLB statement said.
In the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season and placed the league on a 30-day break last week while noting that the National Basketball Players Association and the league’s television partners shared a desire to pick up the schedule later this year. That break has been effectively extended to mid-May under the CDC’s recommendation, leading the NBA to instruct teams that players no longer had to remain in their home markets and could travel to be with family.
Amid the challenges the virus presents, multiple high-ranking executives have said the league probably will be forced to cancel the remainder of the regular season and turn its attention to salvaging its postseason. Potential measures to save the playoffs, some executives said, include pushing back the start date to June and playing games in empty arenas.
In a memo sent to its players Monday, the NHL cited the CDC-recommended eight-week ban on large gatherings and proposed a best-case scenario of training camps reopening around late April and games resuming eventually. The NHL’s hope has been to still play a full regular season and award the Stanley Cup.
For now, the NHL said, all players, including those from foreign countries, can return home and must stay in self-quarantine until March 27. That’s a different directive than players received just days earlier, when the league asked players to remain close to where they play and self-quarantine.
Major League Soccer was two weeks into its season when the pandemic prompted a 30-day shutdown. Teams are forbidden from practicing through at least this week. Because ticket sales are an important source of revenue, MLS is reluctant to play behind closed doors, multiple people close to the league said. In all likelihood, MLS would try to restart this summer, add some postponed matches to the back end of the schedule — which, at the moment, is due to end the first weekend in October — and push the playoffs deeper into the calendar year.
Baseball’s calendar is hemmed in by the winter weather in the northern half of the country, which would make it impossible to extend the postseason schedule deep into November or beyond — barring an unprecedented move to a neutral-site stadium with a dome or in a warmer climate.
In 1995, the last time Opening Day was delayed — in that case by a players’ strike that pushed the season’s start to late April — teams conducted a condensed, two-week spring training before launching into an abbreviated, 144-game season.
The main difference this time is that spring training was already underway when the stoppage came, with pitchers well into their arm-strengthening buildup of innings. Baseball probablly would need to conduct an abbreviated, “second” spring training for the sake of pitchers before its rescheduled Opening Day.
On Monday, players continued to depart spring training camps after MLB informed teams they were no longer allowed to organize workouts. The facilities will not be closed, but players are being urged to stay away.
“We’re really encouraging players to make a decision where they want to be over an extended period of time and get to that location as soon as possible,” Manfred told the Post-Dispatch.
According to a memo union leadership sent to agents Monday, big league players who leave their camps will be eligible to receive a $1,100-per-week living allowance through the MLB Players Association until at least April 9.
The latest delay to the season leaves a cascade of issues for MLB and the players association to iron out, including player salaries for 2020, the accruing of service time, a temporary halting of roster moves and the conditions for the eventual resumption of play.
But all of those issues are secondary to the primary question for baseball and for all sports: When will the games return?
Ben Golliver, Samantha Pell and Steven Goff contributed to this report.