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With Opening Day Axed, MLB Commissioner Sketches Out What Lies Next

On the evening before the Oakland Athletics had been scheduled to open the 2020 season, Baseball Commission Rob Manfred talked to ESPN about the COVID-19 coronavirus shutdown and when baseball might be back. He's hoping for workouts resuming in May, but admits that might be optimistic.

On the eve of what would have been, were it not for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, opening day, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the lack of opening day and what lies ahead for baseball.

In an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the Oakland A’s were supposed to open their season with a 1:07 p.m. game against the Minnesota Twins, Manfred talked about the potential for a shortened season and expanded playoffs as well as the possibility of no season at all.

Will baseball return in July? In June, but with no fans for the first few series? Not at all? No one can say for sure, so Manfred said all possibilities are being considered.

“My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we’ll be gearing back up,” Manfred told Van Pelt on ESPN, adding that the 30 MLB teams could at that point return to their spring training camps to get everyone back in shape, although it’s possible that some teams may opt to do such work at their home facilities.

In the meantime, MLB is reaching out to its fans, offering free access to past games from the 2018 and 2019 seasons on mlb.tv. That's a total of 4,800 games, and includes the playoffs. 

Manfred later reached out directly to fans on opening day.

It’s believed the A’s would return to their facilities in Mesa, Ariz., for most of however long Spring Training, Part II is figured to run. It’s undetermined how long the second spring would last, and it’s also undetermined how long the regular season would go. Clubs are having to balance their desire to get back in front of fans with the need to make sure baseball isn’t a conduit for prolonging the pandemic.

“The goal would be to get as many regular season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal,” Manfred said his ESPN segment. “The exact number we’ll see as reasonable will depend on when we get the go-ahead to play. We need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like.”

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The bottom line is that a 162-game season is probably not a possibility.

“It does give us the opportunity to do some different things,” Manfred said, “to experiment and make sure we provide as many games as possible and as entertaining a product as possible.”

Negotiations with the players’ union might include fewer days off – a standard 162-game season is spread over 186 days – and liberal use of doubleheaders.

There might be the addition of additional players to 26-man rosters to combat what would then be an increased workload, and the post-season might need reconfiguration.

“Nothing is off the table for us,” Manfred said. “We are open. We have had some really positive conversations with our Players Association about relaxing some of the rules that govern our schedule. They’re very focused on returning to play and playing as many games as possible.”

While the possibility of playing some games without fans in the stands is a possibility, it seems likely that baseball would do everything it could not to have that take place. It wouldn’t be good for baseball in general, and it certainly wouldn’t be good for the game-day workers who depend on the work.

“Fans are crucial to the baseball experience as we know it,” Manfred said. “There (are) also significant economic issues. More than any other sport we’re dependent on our gate and our gate-related revenue. Our preference is to have fans in the ballpark as soon as the public health considerations would allow it.”

The A’s drew 1,662,211 last year, a per-game average of 20,521 that ranked 11 in the 15-team American League. After back-to-back 97-win seasons, the club was hoping to be able to make a push at 2 million fans in 2020, a level not seen in Oakland since 2014.