Ross D. Franklin
The Major League Baseball Players’ Association formally rejected MLB’s proposal to delay the MLB season on Feb. 1, meaning that the season is now scheduled to begin on time, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal included players arriving at Spring Training camps on March 22 and beginning the regular season on April 29, both about a month after originally scheduled.
Also included in the proposal was shortening the season for the second consecutive year, with a 154-game season instead of the traditional 162. The Players’ Association “balked” at the offer according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, so much so that they did not even bother to submit a counterproposal. The offer from MLB would have kept the universal designated hitter and the expanded playoff format as well.
In response to this, MLB issued a statement that the season would continue as planned, much to the delight of everyone involved. In addition to the season starting on time, teams have been given fan guidelines for Spring Training, as nearly every team has remained completely silent on the issue; only the Cleveland Indians have stated that fans won’t be let into their training facilities, and are still working on their plan to host fans in the stadium.
Major League Baseball, quite simply put, should not have even tried to submit their proposal (that they knew would fail). The NFL, NHL, and NBA have all played their 2020-21 seasons uninterrupted thus far; in fact, the NBA is even planning an All-Star game to take place in March. To think that MLB’s season wouldn’t be able to take place with success is foolish.
Another reason the Players’ Association cited as a worrying factor was the language in the proposal, which would have, in their minds, given commissioner Rob Manfred more powers than he already had. Given that the 2020 season cemented Manfred’s place as the worst commissioner in sports for how horribly he botched the negotiations and the season as a whole, players obviously wouldn’t be willing to give him any more leeway. Even after MLB hastily rewrote the proposal to exclude the language about him, the damage was done.
This only adds to the ever-growing tension between the Players’ Union and MLB, as many of the Union’s player representatives have been outspoken in their opinion of Manfred, all negative. When the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2021, it would not be surprising if the contentious battlefield between the two leads to a lockout, the sport’s first since the infamous 1994-95 strike.
Other components at stake with the 2021 season include the controversial seven-inning doubleheaders and having a runner start at second base to start each extra inning on play. Most players are opposed to the rule change, which was pushed by Manfred to allegedly decrease the risk of exposure to COVID-19, with Padres reliever Trevor Rosenthal saying, “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Adding to complications of Spring Training this year, Maricopa County, Arizona (where half of MLB’s teams host their Spring camps) sent a letter to MLB’s office requesting that teams hold off on going down until late March, when they hopefully could get their infection rates down. This itself is hypocritical of the county to do so, as the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, who also play there, are currently one of only three teams to allow fans into their indoor arena. Though Spring Training stadiums have only about half the capacity of the Coyotes’ arena, they should easily be able to allow between 2,000 and 3,000 fans into the outdoor stadiums.
Conversely in Florida, where the other half of teams play, the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has given teams the all-clear to have fans back at full capacity. On top of that, Florida never has adopted a mask mandate, however they almost surely will require them for entry into Spring Training games. A nice middle ground between Florida and Maricopa County would be ideal for Spring Training to work.
The bottom line, however, is that Spring Training will be happening, much to the delight of nearly all involved. With many teams poised to allow fans into their stadiums for the regular season, training camp will be a good opportunity for those teams to test their protocols and make any adjustments they may need.