Major League Baseball has decided to “suspend baseball operations indefinitely” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league is suspending spring training, effective tomorrow, and is delaying the start of the 2020 regular season, “by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.” Baseball has also postponed the 2020 World Baseball Classic qualifier games scheduled for Tucson, Arizona at the end of this month.
Major League Baseball said that these actions are, “being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.” Major League Baseball said it will “continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days.” The league said it 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.”
The move comes after the NBA, NHL, and Major League Soccer all suspended their in-progress seasons and after multiple major college basketball conferences canceled their conference tournaments. It also comes in the wake of multiple mayors and governors either recommending the cancelation of public gatherings or issuing outright bans on them, including professional sporting events.
Before this announcement, Major League Baseball had initially instituted measures to protect players, including the banning of the press from clubhouses and prohibiting players from shaking hands with fans or signing autographs. Those measures came under fire, however, as insufficient and as failing to take the health of fans and stadium workers into account. In the past 24-48 hours Major League Baseball was reportedly exploring plans to relocate games to cities which are so far unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but that plan, quite obviously, became untenable following the moves of the governing body of virtually every other currently-active sport, amateur and professional.
Still, there are questions.
The first question is why the spring training suspension is not effective until tomorrow. At present there are five games in progress in Florida with thousands of fans and stadium workers on hand. If you can stop a game in the middle of the action for rain, one would think you could do so for a global pandemic. I guess the assumption was that people are already there. One would’ve hoped that, given what has happened around the world of sports in the past 24 hours that this decision would’ve come earlier, but better late than never.
A bigger question is where the 2020 Major League Baseball season goes from here.
That, obviously, depends on the course the pandemic takes and when it is deemed safe for large crowds to gather again. If it’s a matter of weeks or a month, the 2020 season might take the shape of something like the 1995 season which, after the resolution of the 1994-95 strike, began on April 26 and was reduced to 144 games. If the progression of the pandemic is slower or more serious than currently expected, we could have a several-months delay on our hands. It’s something of a cliche to say so, but it’s true that, in this case, only time will tell.
This is clearly one of the more noteworthy events in baseball history. We will, without question, be covering any and all developments as they occur.