NEW YORK – Rob Manfred wants the Major League Baseball to be able to take the field every time the government and health officials give the green light.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to flip every stone to try to play the game in 2020 if we can do it in the environment,” the baseball commissioner said on Wednesday in an interview with the Associated Press.
Spring training was suspended on March 12 due to the new coronavirus pandemic and the scheduled start of the season on March 26 has been delayed. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all gatherings of 50 or more people be postponed until mid-May.
Among the plans that baseball is studying is to base the 30 teams in the Phoenix area and use the 10 spring baseball fields, the Arizona Diamondbacks hunting ground and possibly college facilities. The matches would be played in empty stadiums; players, staff and broadcast teams and technicians would be kept in controlled environments, such as ball parks, hotels and MLB organized transportation.
“We tried to be careful before we left too early, depending on the public health situation,” Manfred said in a telephone interview from his home in Jupiter, Florida. “For people to say that we are not going to play sports in 2020, I think it goes the other way. I think we all need, whatever your predilection, to wait for the situation to unfold more, give us more information and make realistic decisions about what is possible. “
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, approved an Arizona option plan in an interview with Snapchat on Wednesday.
“No one comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well watched, “said Fauci. “Have them tested weekly and make sure they don’t end up infecting each other or their families, and just let them play the season. “
Benefits of Arizona include many hotels, including at least eight in the Phoenix area with 425 or more rooms. About 3,000 people are likely to be tested regularly, including players, club staff, referees and the broadcast contingent.
There is no deadline for a decision, and if the health situation demands it, baseball could even start in the fall and take advantage of the warm weather in the Phoenix area.
“The threshold issue is the health issue, and that’s where we spend the most time,” said Manfred.
In addition to the CDC directive, many state and local governments have banned public events. The MLB will wait to decide its course because the biggest problems are medical, not logistical or economic.
“The ones that are most worrisome are the ones that are beyond our control,” said Manfred. “Right now, most of the places we would play would not be allowed under the current rules, so obviously those are the ones that concern me the most. How long does it last? “
The MLB and the players’ association have reached an agreement in which the teams advance $ 170 million on $ 4 billion in wages until May 24 in exchange for players abandoning claims for the rest of their wages and receiving full service time if the season is abandoned.
Manfred said about 40% of operating revenues come from the door and related areas, such as luxury suite rentals, dealerships, parking, signage, program sales and advertising. Going ahead with a plan to play in empty stadiums would likely lead to another negotiation with the union, led by former All-Star first baseman Tony Clark.
While some players may be reluctant to kidnap in Arizona, it could be the only path to wages ranging from at least $ 3,478 per game to $ 222,222 for Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole.
“My job is to find the best way to play baseball when we know more about the environment,” said Manfred. “We’re going to have to go see Tony, and it’s his job to figure out what the players want to do. “
There has been little discussion of innovations such as doubles with seven innings, the extension of the designated hitter to the National League, the decision of additional games with a home derby and the extension of the playoffs, all subject to negotiations with the union. Manfred calls these problems a “laundry list you will consider when you are ready to make decisions.”
He entered into a routine of conference calls between his constituents: homeowner control on Monday, general managers on Tuesday, team presidents on Wednesday and the MLB executive on Thursday.
MLB executives have suffered cutbacks and budget cuts have allowed the central office to say it will continue to pay its 1,200 full and part-time employees until May. Some teams have adopted similar positions with their administrative staff.
“I think the clubs have been phenomenal in making every effort to continue to provide economic support to all those who make a living from baseball, at large. ” he said.
Manfred is proud of the efforts of the MLB staff. He said the blow to income will go beyond this year.
“There is no doubt that what is happening now will have an impact on ’21,” he said.