Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred informed all 30 clubs on Monday to expect spring training to start on time with a full 162-game regular season to follow, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
The league preferred to delay the start of the 2021 regular season in order to allow more time for both players and fans to receive the vaccine in hopes that more fans would be allowed inside ballparks. The Major League Baseball Players Association was strongly opposed to the idea, citing a desire to earn their full paychecks through a 162-game season.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, some owners are also considering the possibility of pushing back the season by a month with a 162-game regular season through the end of October. The postseason would be played entirely in warm-weather neutral sites.
Television networks, however, prefer to have the World Series end at the beginning of November as revenue from sponsorship was down due to the MLB schedule overlapping with the NBA and NHL playoffs as well as the NFL and college football schedules.
The league has no authority to unilaterally impose a shorter season, according to the collective bargaining agreement. Barring any COVID-19 related health and safety regulations implemented by the federal or local government, it appears MLB will go ahead with a full season.
Both sides are discussing whether to bring back both the universal DH and expanded playoffs, per Nightengale. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, pitchers will hit again in National League ballparks and 10 teams will make the playoffs in 2021.
As for fans in the stands, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported that the league will not mandate proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or a temperature check to enter a ballpark. However, individual teams can choose to implement the safety precautions they see fit.
The league-wide memo Shaikin refers in his report also says that teams should prepare for local governments to mandate “pod” seating. During the NLCS and World Series, “pod” seating was sold in groups of four with groups seated at least six feet apart from one another. Social distancing will also be enforced around concourses and other areas of the ballpark and fans will be expected to wear face-coverings in all areas except while eating or drinking in their designated pod.
Back in October, Philadelphia officials announced new limits on outdoor gatherings that coincided with new state regulations. For outdoor venues that hold more than 10,000 people, 15% of maximum occupancy (up to 7,500 people) was allowed. The policy gave way for the Philadelphia Eagles to allow fans to attend three home games that spanned from the middle of October to the beginning of November.
As COVID-19 cases increased, the city imposed new restrictions on outdoor gatherings and the Eagles announced that no fans would be allowed to attend games for the time being. The remaining restrictions set by the city are set to expire on Jan. 15.
The city has not addressed whether or not Phillies fans would be allowed back in Citizens Bank Park next season but considering that the Eagles were allowed to welcome fans back — albeit for a short period of time — and that certain sections of the population should be vaccinated by spring, the Phillies should have a good chance of welcoming back a limited number of fans on Opening Day.
Then again, we don’t know for sure if Opening Day will be April 1. All of that remains to be seen.
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