California governor Gavin Newsom, in conjunction with state health officials, recommended the cancellation of gatherings of 250 or more people across the entire state, including “professional, college and school sporting events.” The recommendation extends through the end of March. This, obviously, comes in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak which, as of last night, had 177 confirmed cases in California, with more certainly to come.
The move puts new pressure on Major League Baseball, whose season begins on March 26. At present, the Dodgers have five home games scheduled in March and the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres are scheduled for six home games. The San Francisco Giants begin on the road — but will be in L.A. to face the Dodgers — before going to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks, returning for their home opener on April 3. The Angels are on the road, in the state of Texas, until April 3 and, at the moment, are unaffected by the recommendation.
This announcement comes on the heels of the NBA announcing the indefinite suspension of its season last night and the NCAA announcing that its tournament games will be closed to the public except for essential staff and limited family attendance. It also comes in the wake of mayors and governors began to issue outright bans on public gatherings, including professional sporting events. The governor of Washington and mayor of San Francisco have already issued such bans.
At present, Major League Baseball believes it can simply react to these bans and recommendations in a piecemeal fashion, relocating games to areas it believes are not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While MLB does have the luxury of having two weeks before Opening Day, thereby giving it more time to plan, the underlying assumption that it can proceed with the season as normal seems like wishful thinking at best. Indeed, each day this approach continues, it becomes more and more like denial.