With the risk to players rising after a slew of COVID-19 positives in training camps, MLB is under the gun to come up with a plan to reassure players on the safety of a 2020 MLB season—even though there’s a decent chance that season will not be completed.
The assumption from players was that the COVID-19 pandemic would be contained by the end of the year, as they proposed playing well into November. But with the number of test positives as well as the positive rates rising in key states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, it’s now clear to all that a 2020 MLB season is a risky endeavor, to be sure. That’s leading MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to push a season starting as soon as possible, ending the end of September, with 16-team playoffs and a World Series ending in September before a potential fall second wave. There are plenty of players not thrilled with the prospect of play this year, and there is a minority of MLB owners who feel the same way—and could kill the whole idea of play this year.
Or at least surely alter it to the point where what we see on the field this year will be a whole lot different than what we saw last season, including a universal DH, unlimited substitutions, the shortening or elimination of extra-inning games via ties and players skipping action because of high-risk members of their families.
The latest change: players would report to home ballparks no earlier than June 29, with a regular season beginning July 26. Yesterday the MLBPA postponed a vote on the latest MLB proposal after Manfred presented slight alterations to it, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:
“I really believe we are fighting over an impossibility on games,’’ Manfred said to Clark in his e-mail obtained by USA Today. “The earliest we will be ready for players to report is a week from Monday [June 29] given the need to relocate teams from Florida. That leaves 66 days to play 60 games. Realistically, that is the outside of the envelope now.’’
The fear among the players is that while they have been assured of receiving their full prorated salary, COVID-19 could force the season to be shortened to fewer than 60 games, further reducing their pay.
If the season is shortened, Manfred promised Clark that the postseason would not be expanded from 10 teams to 16 teams in 2021 and that the designated hitter would not be used in the National League in 2021.
Another small change sure to be decried by purists: an adoption of the extra-inning rule tested in the minors, where the 10th inning would begin with a runner on second base. The union has agreed to it for 2020; the issue will be whether it lives beyond what’s surely going to be known as the Asterisk Season if play does indeed resume.
Considering planning for an altered 2020 season has been going on since the middle of March, it’s a little sad that so many details need to be worked out at the last minute. Yearning for a season that’s merely delayed and just a little shortened may be great for players, but we live in largely improvised times, and not being able to go along with the improvisations is a black eye for them. But what’s worst: using the improvised nature of the season in order to push through changes is a black eye for owners as well.
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