The coronavirus pandemic caused severe alterations to the 2020 Major League Baseball season, but for now that won’t be the case in 2021.
The sport “plans to start on time,” reports Jeff Passan of ESPN, meaning spring training camps opening on Feb. 17 and regular season Opening Day on April 1. The Oakland A’s are scheduled to host the Houston Astros to begin the year.
The pandemic is still ongoing, though the recent introduction of a vaccine now offers concrete hope for a potential end in sight. The Cactus League made a request last week that spring training be delayed because the state of Arizona is being hit particularly hard by infections, and later MLB made an offer to the Players Association that included pushing the schedule back by a month for a 154-game season with full pay.
Late last week, the MLBPA for the first time this offseason received a proposal from MLB to delay Spring Training and Opening Day by approximately one month.
Under the proposal, the end of the season would be delayed one week, the regular season would be shortened to 154 games and all 30 teams would be required to play several doubleheaders. Players would also be required to accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.
Although Player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.
The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that Players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its Clubs to prepare for an on-time start.
We do not make this decision lightly. Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help Players and Clubs meet these challenges.
While the statement makes note of the inclusion of expanded playoffs and a universal designated hitter in the league’s 154-game offer (a trade-off that had previously been rejected by the players), insider Jon Heyman reports that MLB would have been willing to table those issues if a negotiation on a delayed schedule had begun. “The union seemed to prefer to start earlier due to an even greater concern about baseball injuries than Covid,” added Heyman.
With the Collective Bargaining Agreement still in place through the end of 2021, there is no need for the two sides to reach any further deal to get the season going — last year’s changes were mutually agreed upon as necessary emergency measures. Barring government action that prohibits pro sports from taking place at all, and/or another special agreement by the players to adjust the schedule, the league is compelled to move forward with the season as planned and that’s what they’re going to do.