It’s pretty much always important to listen closely when the commissioner speaks, particularly in this evolutionary era of Major League Baseball (replays, 3-batter minimums, roster expansion, etc.). But with an unprecedented and on-going league hiatus due to the global spread of COVID-19, it’s never been more important than now.
So, take note that Commissioner Rob Manfred gave a lengthy interview to ESPN on Wednesday, covering a wide range of topics, with a focus on the league’s response to the virus and plans for the immediate future. You can check out the full video at the bottom of this post, otherwise, I’ll cover everything he said with a little added commentary and context where needed.
- The league does not yet know exactly when baseball will return this season, but they do know how they’ll determine that date. In short, they’re coordinating with the CDC (Center for Disease Control and WHO (World Health Organization), and also have four infectious disease specialists from Columbia, Duke, and MIT providing advice on the course and outlook of the virus.
- It became clear within a few days of the initial hiatus that the originally scheduled return date was going to be far too optimistic.
- Manfred has had on-going conversations with the other league commissioners, including Don Garber (MLS), Adam Silver (NBA), Jay Monahan (PGA), and Gary Bettman (NHL), both to hear their opinions and pool information as best they can. Although each major sport is going to have their own individualized plan, the coordination between them makes it feel like we may see a mass return of sports all around the same time. Just a guess.
- Among the goals for when the sport does return? (1) A regular season with a “credible number of games,” (2) a postseason format that “focuses on providing the most possible entertaining product,” and overall (3) “to play as many baseball games as we possibly can.”
- The exact number of regular season games the league considers “reasonable” will depend on when they’re able to return, so he’s not ready or willing to say anything specific on that number just yet. Either way, we’ll have to be flexible on what the regular season schedule and postseason format looks like, because Manfred indicated that they may have to get creative: “Nothing is off the table for us right now.”
- Among the specifics, Manfred did mention that the league and players association have been getting along well, specifically in loosening some of the restrictions that govern the schedule (think total number of games/week and possibly some travel related friction), because both sides know this isn’t something that will exist beyond this season. That’s a really good sign and an important reminder that there are logistic and legal hurdles to clear, on top of everything else.
MLB and Players Reportedly Reach Agreement on Draft, Service Time, Salaries, Etc. https://t.co/Cyhi5kmcXZ (via BN)
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 27, 2020
- MLB is more dependent on their “gate” and “gate-related revenues” more than any other sport, so the preference is to have fans in the ballpark as soon as the public health considerations would allow it.
- On the issue of service time, Manfred suggestion (pro-rated service time) is what the two sides ultimately agreed upon. In short, if 2020 is cancelled entirely, players will receive however much service time they accrued in 2019. If it’s truncated, there will be pro-rated service time (i.e. if you play 50 of 100 games, you get half a year, just like playing 81 of 162). In return, the players budged on receiving their full salaries this year. Unfortunately, that does not help the Cubs and their luxury tax concerns. In fact, it arguably makes it worse.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 27, 2020
- The league has been paying Minor League players expense money ($400/week) and there could be more news on that coming (potentially an extension of that support).
- Manfred’s optimistic outlook for this season is to start gearing back up in May. Obviously, that would mean just the beginning of some form of Spring Training, which means we’re talking about a June regular season start … on the optimistic end of the spectrum.
- “I think [Opening Day] will mark a real milestone in the return normalcy [for the country]. I think you saw it after 9/11, in terms of the resumption of play. I was there in Shea Stadium that night that we began playing – it was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever attended.”
Whenever baseball finally returns to Wrigley Field, I'm gonna need someone to give Jason Heyward an American flag the first time he runs out to right field. pic.twitter.com/lHQiwbDDb1
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 25, 2020
- Switching gears, the league is done with the Boston Red Sox investigation, but Manfred has not been able to get a report out to the public yet because of the … you know … pandemic. I think that’s understandable. Manfred did mention that it will come out before Opening Day, whenever that is.
Here’s the full interview: