NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball delayed the start of its season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak and suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule.
Opening day had been scheduled for March 26. The decision announced by Commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday left open whether each team would still play a 162-game schedule.
“It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the proper measure we need to take now given the situation the country’s in and the world’s in,” New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. “It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment. Once we’re able to hopefully get a hold on some things and get some questions answered we can figure out when things can continue.”
The announcement came while some spring training games in Florida were still in progress. MLB followed the NBA, NHL, MLS and college basketball tournaments in altering its schedule because of the pandemic. The minor league baseball season, which was to start April 9, also was being delayed.
“We’re ultimately all people, we all love the game of baseball but this is a far bigger issue for all of us right now, and we’re trying to work our way through it together,” Seattle Mariners owner John Stanton said at the team’s camp in Peoria, Arizona.
“I believe that this is going to be something that will have a lot more twists and turns to it. I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will start on April 9,” he said.
MLB had continued to play into Thursday, two weeks before openers at Dodger Stadium, Camden Yards and other parks. But baseball changed course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a morning news conference he had strongly recommended to local authorities and organizers that they limit all mass gatherings.
“MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” the baseball commissioner’s office said in a statement. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”
MLB had not had a mass postponement of openers since 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 following a 7 1/2-month players’ strike that also wiped out the 1994 World Series. Opening day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26. Player salaries were reduced by 11.1% in 1995 because the games were lost due to a strike.
Players with big league contracts likely will be allowed to leave spring training and go home if they want to, but no decision on that was made public.
After a 32-day spring training lockout in 1990 caused opening day to be delayed a week until April 9, the season was extended by three days to allow each team a full 162-game schedule.
Baseball’s first strike lasted from April 1-13 in 1972, and the season started April 15. Teams played 153-156 games.
This year marked the earliest opening day other than for international games. As it stood, Game 7 of the World Series would’ve been Oct. 28.
The Texas Rangers had been looking forward to the opening of their new retractable-roof ballpark, Globe Life Field, first with an exhibition game against St. Louis on March 23. The formal opener had been scheduled for March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels.
If regular-season games are lost this year, MLB could attempt to reduce salaries by citing paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player’s Contract, which covers national emergencies. The announcement Thursday said the decision was made “due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.”
“This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the player, club or the league,” every Uniform Player’s Contract states.
The provision also states the agreement is “subject also to the right of the commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
Spring training games were suspended as of 4 p.m. EDT Thursday. Qualifying games for the 2021 World Baseball Classic also were called off.
AP freelance writers Mark Didtler and Jose M. Romero contributed to this report.