Manfred Clinging to 162-Game Hopes Even After Accepting Major Delay

photo: Rob Manfred (Bill Streicher/Imagn)

Major League Baseball is supporting an advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt collections of large groups of people for the next eight weeks. Yet, Commissioner Rob Manfred is still clinging to a hope to play all 162 games of the regular season. Likely what is behind this is an attempt to protect revenue, yet like much of the league’s reaction to the coronavirus threat, it seems unrealistic.

From many quarters, MLB has drawn criticism for slow, almost begrudging reaction to the pandemic – from waiting until partway through spring training game action on Thursday, March 12 to suspend play, to their suggestion at the time that the start or regular season might be delayed just two weeks – until Thursday, April 9.

It seems that most everyone understood the threat presented by the spread of the virus better than MLB’s own leadership.

In a twist that also defied logic, teams were encouraged to “close” camps, while keeping them open to players and staff, but function on a limited basis, as if baseball personnel were immune. All of this backed by the wildly unreasonable April 9 target left MLB open to major second-guessing – even before Monday’s events.

A full season? How?

As play was suspended, teams assured their anxious ticket-buying public that they would be doing everything possible to get in all 162 games of the regular season. Among the ideas floated informally reportedly include increased use of double-headers, or simply adding the postponed games onto the back-end of the schedule, therefore playing the regular season through October and perhaps holding World Series games in a neutral-site, domed facility.

Would the Lords of Baseball really deny local fans the opportunity to cheer on their team during the post-season? Apparently so. After all, consider the alternatives.

Can anyone imagine November playoff games at Target Field in Minneapolis or in Denver’s Coors Field? Would MLB put a break in the World Series schedule for Thanksgiving? As crazy as these scenarios may sound, they are realistic potential ramifications that could follow MLB’s quest to play a full season.

On the thought of mass twin-bills, consider this. The only reason the MLB regular season begins in late March is due to the Players’ Association wanting more off-days during the normal six-month schedule, a change that was first implemented in 2019.

So why does anyone think the players will now do a complete 180 and agree to work an even more condensed calendar of games than the prior schedule they pushed hard to get rid of?

Could MLB use a threat of partial salary reductions for a partial season played? And if so, could this open a pre-CBA battle that might delay the season even further?

And I haven’t even mentioned how thorny owner-union issues like service time accrual and arbitration eligibility credit for a partial season might be negotiated – all in a potentially very limited time window (in late May?)…

CDC puts MLB’s feet to the fire

On Sunday, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hit MLB alongside its head with the reality of the coronavirus containment efforts. The CDC advised a pause of eight weeks for the collection of groups of people totaling 50 or more. (Yes, that would even cover games in Marlins Park!)

The next day, the Cardinals really closed their camp this time, sending staff and a group of 15-25 lingering players home due to MLB mandating no further unofficial team workouts would be allowed.

Further, MLB issued a short public statement, essentially agreeing to abide by the CDC directive – without declaring a new Opening Day target.

I guess they are hoping their followers do not possess calendars.

A simple reference of such a resource quickly tells us that the prescribed eight weeks would conclude on Sunday, May 10. At that point, one could assume coaches and players would be cleared to return to their spring training camps. Add the two weeks for players to ramp up and then travel north, and the most optimistic Opening Day would be right at Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

Sure, maybe the CDC is being cautious and the threat could pass earlier and restrictions would then be relaxed. Then again, what if that doesn’t happen?

The only practical take is to assume that we will not experience Major (or Minor) League Baseball until Memorial Day or later.

It is as much common sense as social distancing and washing our hands thoroughly.

Yet, on Monday afternoon, Manfred was still madly scheming how to try to play all 162 games this season.

The telling comment is that even he admits that he has no idea how to try to stuff the 162-game schedule toothpaste back into the shrinking 2020 season tube. We can only wonder how long it will take for the reality of this situation to be accepted by MLB.

Considering everything, I give getting in 162 in 2020 about the same odds as I gave the then-tentative April 9 start date the instant it was announced last Friday. If even I get it, why in the heck can’t they?

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