Major League Baseball’s 32 owners have approved a strategy for players to return to summer’s official sport in early July. The plan calls for an 82-game season with teams playing their divisional rivals and other nearby teams to minimize travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
Spring training could begin in early to mid-June, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.
The change would mean more interleague play – AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL Central and AL West vs. NL West. Get ready for the Phillies vs the Yankees and Giants vs The A’s.
Because of this, MLB execs want the National League to adopt the American League’s rule of having a universal designated hitter bat for the pitcher. That will be a big adjustment for NL players and managers, as well as for traditional fans who have fiercely debated the pros and cons of a designated hitter for decades.
The DH was adopted by the American League for the 1973 season but has been resisted by National League owners. The players’ union has favored it because it would create more jobs for high-paying hitters in their 30s.
Teams would prefer to play at their regular-season ballparks, but would switch to spring training stadiums or neutral sites if medical and government approvals can’t be obtained for games at home. For instance, Toronto might have to play home games in Dunedin, Florida.
Players Only. No fans.
The current strategy calls for teams to initially play isolated. That means no fans in Wrigley’s bleachers, and MLB would test team employees for COVID-19 as often as possible. In a recent study, just 0.7 percent of MLB employees, which included players and some family members, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
Team’s active rosters would be expanded from 26 to around 30. With minor leagues shut down, there most likely will be the addition of about 20 players per club akin to the NFL’s practice squad.
Postseason play would be expanded from 10 clubs to 14 by doubling wild cards in each league to four.
The All-Star Game, scheduled for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on July 14, likely would be called off.
MLB officials are slated to make a presentation to the union on Tuesday. An agreement with the players’ association is needed, and talks are expected to be difficult — especially over a proposal for a revenue split that would be unprecedented for baseball. Players withstood a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 to fight off such a plan.
“We’ll see where we will be in July,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose state is the home of five MLB clubs and has talked with baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. “We certainly look forward to Major League Baseball and all sports resuming. But again, the question is when and that will be determined on the basis of public health and public safety and the spread of this virus.”
While not being able to go to the stadium to eat a dog, drink a beer and catch a game would bum out most fans, many will still be eager to catch their favorite team on TV.