For now, all systems are go for an on-time start to Major League Baseball’s spring training next month and the 2021 regular season, according to a baseball source.
Also, on Monday commissioner Rob Manfred informed MLB clubs to plan on a full 162-game schedule, according to a report in USA Today.
There were multiple reports last month that some owners were pushing for the season to start up to a month late without making up games on the back end.
Sensing this was a trial balloon being floated to decrease the total number of games but increase those played in front of ticket-buying fans vaccinated from the COVID-19 virus, the Players Association pushed back forcefully.
There is clear language in the collective bargaining agreement that unless a national emergency was imposed by the government that prevented baseball from being played, the commissioner has no power to delay or shorten the season without consent from the players.
The players, able to complete their abbreviated season and expanded postseason during the pandemic last year and recognizing that other major professional and amateur sports leagues are playing or attempting to play a full season, sent word that they were not on board with any attempt to shorten the season that would keep them from collecting 100 percent of their 2021 salaries.
Last week, in a statement to The Athletic, the MLBPA said, “The Commissioner’s Office has assured us that they have instructed the Clubs to prepare for an on time start.”
MLB released its 2021 schedule last September.
In response to an inquiry last week about whether it had directed clubs to prepare for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season, MLB responded with this statement: “We have announced the dates for the start of Spring Training and the Championship Season. As we get closer we will, in consultation with public health authorities, our medical experts, and the Players Association, determine whether any modifications should be considered in light of the current surge in COVID-19 cases and the challenges we faced in 2020 completing a 60-game season in a sport that plays every day.”
With regard to the report that some teams wished to delay the season so more fans could be vaccinated, MLB replied: “In conjunction with our team of medical experts, we are tracking all developments related to vaccines. We are working on plans both to promote vaccination and to ensure that the members of our industry are vaccinated at an appropriate time.”
The Red Sox are among the majority of teams that have yet to release a report date for their players next month, an announcement that is normally made around November in conjunction with information about spring training ticket sales, another topic yet to be addressed by the Red Sox. A spokesperson said Monday that the Red Sox were still discussing both a reporting date and protocols that will be in place for fans to attend workouts and games at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
Last year, pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 12, with position players reporting a few days later. Fans are usually allowed in the back fields at JetBlue Park from the very first day, but the Red Sox have yet to receive full guidance from Lee County and the state of Florida on health and safety protocols.
Early in the lengthy collective bargaining agreement, Article V spells out clearly, “During the term of this Agreement, each Club shall be scheduled to play 162 games during each championship season.”
The exception to this can be found later, where it’s stated, “This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action,” which would give the Commissioner the right “to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
The first game of spring training for the Red Sox is scheduled for Feb. 27, with the regular season beginning April 1.