Posted on March 12, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
Less than 24 hours after the NBA set a precedent by suspending its season due to concerns regarding the coronavirus, Major League Baseball has followed. Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement on Thursday that spring training games would be suspended starting at 4 p.m. EST on Thursday. Moreover, the start of the regular season will be pushed back by at least two weeks while the league monitors the coronavirus pandemic. This comes less than a day after MLB officials expressed confidence that opening day would go ahead as planned.
Before making the announcement, Manfred spoke with all 30 owners, as well as the Players Association. The decision seemed inevitable after the NBA suspended play on Thursday night after Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. Both MLS and the NHL followed the NBA in suspending their current season. Even the NCAA Tournament is in jeopardy after all of the major conferences canceled their end of season tournaments.
There were actually a handful of games in the Grapefruit League underway when the announcement was made. However, those will be the last baseball games to be played for the immediate future. The qualifying round for next year’s World Baseball Classic, which was scheduled for later this month in Arizona, has also been postponed indefinitely. Some teams had already been proactive in calling their scouts home rather than have them continue to travel and put themselves at risk.
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“MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” the league said in a statement. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”
What happens from here is anybody’s guess. It’s possible that players will remain at their club’s spring training facility for the time being. Players may continue to work out and perhaps even play intra-squad games to continue preparations for the season ahead. However, with opening day originally scheduled for March 26 and the season being delayed by at least two weeks, the regular season is a minimum of four weeks away. Of course, that could be more of a rough estimate than a firm date at this point.
The fact that two NBA players on the same team tested positive for coronavirus could add unease across the baseball world. MLB rosters are roughly twice the size of NBA rosters. Bear in mind that there are even more players in camp during spring training because of minor league players in major league camp. That could complicate matters further if any players test positive for the virus.
At the moment, fans and media aren’t privy to any of the contingency plans that Manfred has discussed with the 30 owners. With the original opening day of March 26 being sooner than ever before, MLB could stick to a 162-game schedule if the season is only delayed by two weeks. However, if the start of the season is delayed beyond the new opening day date of April 9, the league could be forced to shorten the season. The last time that happened was the strike-shortened season of 1995 when each team played 144 games.
For now, baseball fans and the rest of the sports world can only wait. It’s surely wise of MLB and other leagues to press pause while the health and science communities learn more about coronavirus and gather as much information as possible. However, it leaves the conclusion of spring training and the start of the 2020 MLB season in limbo for the next several weeks.