ST. PAUL — Speaking to ESPN in one of his first interviews since play was suspended earlier this month, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Wednesday, March 25, that players could begin preparing for a new season as early as May.
While Manfred said a full 162-game schedule is “probably not” happening, he vowed to be creative in thinking about how they could accomplish the goal of playing as many games as possible.
“Nothing,” Manfred said, is “of the table.”
Thursday was Major League Baseball’s scheduled Opening Day. The Twins were supposed to be in Oakland to start their American League Central title defense. Instead, the league celebrated “Opening Day at Home” by streaming classic games on their digital platforms.
The revised date for Opening Day is currently on pause due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. MLB has said it is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to not have any gatherings of more than 50 people until May 10.
“My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we’ll be gearing back up,” Manfred said on ESPN. “We’ll have to make a determination depending on what that precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is going to be done in the club’s home cities or back in Florida and Arizona.”
To get in as many games as possible, teams could play scheduled doubleheaders and tack on games to the end of their schedules. That would likely then mean neutral-site locations later in the season as the weather cools off in Minnesota and around the country.
Manfred said the league had had some “really positive conversations” with the MLB Players Association about “relaxing some of the rules that govern our schedule” as the two sides focus on a return to playing. While that is still up in the air, they are reportedly close to an agreement on a “number of key issues,” per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, which includes the 2020 draft.
Service time has also been a focus for the two sides as they sift through a variety of scenarios.
And confronted with the possibility that baseball doesn’t come back this year, Manfred said that would be a “tremendous hardship” for fans, players and ownership.
“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” he said. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back, our fans will be back, our players will be back and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country from this particular pandemic.”