MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hopes the league will return to the field “at some point in May,” though he knows that could be altered due to unknown developments related to the coronavirus pandemic. During an appearance last night on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Manfred said, “We'll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need.” He added the “goal would be to get to as many regular-season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.” Manfred did acknowledge a “credible number of games” are needed in the regular season. He added, “We should have a postseason format that focuses on providing the most possible entertaining product to our fans at a very, very difficult time in our history. Overall, I think our goal is to play as many baseball games as we possibly can given the limitations associated with the public concerns.” More Manfred: “I don't have some absolute number in my mind that's a make or break. I think we have to evaluate the situation. I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like. … It does give us an opportunity to do some different things to experiment” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25).
DEAL CLOSE ON ECONOMIC ISSUES: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale cites sources as saying that MLB and the MLBPA are “close to reaching an agreement on critical economic issues with hopes of salvaging the majority of the 162-game season,” which could mean the World Series would be played in late November. The deal would include a commitment from MLB and the players to play as “close to a full regular-season schedule as possible, providing the COVID-19 crisis dissipates and permits them to even start a season.” The two sides would like to play at least 100 games, scheduling regular-season games through October and including weekly doubleheaders.” They have also discussed the idea of “expanding the current playoff format to help offset the loss of income, while acknowledging that if cold weather becomes an issue in November, they could move the World Series and playoff series from cold-weather cities to a neutral site.” The sides also are “close to reaching a resolution” regarding service time. A source said that if there is any form of a season, players most likely would “receive credit for a full year as if it was a regular 162-game season” (USA TODAY, 3/26).
TIME TO GET CREATIVE: ESPN's Mike Golic said MLB "may have to get creative depending on how many games you want to get in and how the regular season is going to be looked at” ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 3/26). THE ATHLETIC’s Rosenthal & Stark wrote MLB is “staring at an opportunity … to devise a template unlike any other in the game’s history” and to “create a laboratory out of a shortened season and test a wide range of experimental ideas that could help energize the sport.” They offer several examples of what could be implemented (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/25). YAHOO SPORTS also takes a look at some experiments MLB could implement this season “that might stick around” in the future (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/25). But ESPN's Mark Teixeira warned that MLB needs to be "very careful with how much we mess with a game that’s built for a reason." While talk has included the idea of seven-inning games being part of scheduled double-headers, Teixeira said, "Nine-inning games are very important to a roster construction" ("Get Up," ESPN, 3/26).
NO DESIRE TO PLAY WITHOUT FANS: Playing in empty venues has been an option floated for all sports for when they come back, and Manfred unsurprisingly said MLB’s “preference would be to play with fans.” He said, “There are also significant economic issues. More than I think any other sport, we're dependent on our gate and our gate-related revenue. So obviously our preference is to have fans in the ballpark as soon as the public health considerations would allow it” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25).
CHANCE FOR SPORT TO BOUNCE BACK: ESPN’s Jeff Passan said Manfred "sounds resilient right now" about returning as soon as possible, in part "so that the country can find something to look forward.” Passan: “It's been a really long time since baseball has been the national pastime for America. Football took over a long time ago. Now you look at baseball's opportunity to go and really be that thing that people can congregate around the TV looking toward and feel some sense of community when so much of our community has been lost to social distancing. If baseball comes back, and if it is the first sport to come back, it really has a chance to make an impact” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25).
BASEBALL NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck writes no corners "should be cut when it comes to the safety of the general populace." However, there will "come a time when life will return to some semblance of normalcy and -- at that point -- MLB has a responsibility to reconstitute a season that goes well beyond protecting its own financial welfare." Considering the "long-term damage the pandemic will do to the overall economy, every job -- full-time or temporary -- that can be saved in any industry is critical to an eventual recovery." The worst "might be yet to come, but that’s why it’s so important for the National Pastime to make a strong comeback when the coast is finally clear" (BALTIMORE SUN, 3/26).