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Manfred: MLB will be a key part of healing from virus outbreak

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said the league will be a key part of the global recovery from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, whenever play is able to resume.

Speaking on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Manfred said the league is eyeing sometime in May to resume activity, in line with guidance about public gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And once activity does restart, Manfred said “nothing’s off the table” in terms of recalibrating the schedule.

“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” Manfred said. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.

“Look, my optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we’ll be gearing back up. We’ll have to make a determination, depending on what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is going to be done in the clubs’ home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. Again, I think the goal would be to get as many regular-season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.”

For Manfred, who has been involved with MLB in various roles for more than three decades, the ongoing virus outbreak and baseball’s role in it carry some similarity to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“I think [playing baseball] will mark a real milestone in the return to normalcy,” Manfred said. “I think you saw it after 9/11, in terms of resumption of play. I was there in Shea Stadium [in New York] that night we began playing. It was one of the most memorable games I’ve attended. It’s an honor for our sport to be regarded in a way that we have been part of our country coming back from some horrific events, and we hope that we can play a similar role with respect to this one.”

MLB has been engaged in active discussion with the MLB Players Association on a wide range of virus-related impacts, including not only scheduling but payment protocols for players, service time accrual, revenue sharing provisions, and numerous other matters. 

March 26 was to be the league’s Opening Day for the 2020 season. But instead, Manfred acknowledged in the televised interview that “we’re probably not going to be able to do” a normal 162-season. Instead, the commissioner said the league and union are both open to less conventional ideas to get in as many games as possible once play restarts and still have a credible season.

“Nothing’s off the table for us right now,” Manfred said. “I think we are open, and we’ve 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. And when you have that kind of positive dialogue, it creates an opportunity to do things that are a little different. You’re not committed to them over the long term because this year is a unique circumstance. But there’s a lot of ideas out there, and we really are open to all of them.”

Among the possibilities that could be part of that discussion is a first-ever neutral-site World Series that could be staged in a warm-weather city or at a domed facility to allow for easier extension of the schedule deeper into the fall. 

Manfred, meanwhile, also said an investigation on electronic sign-stealing allegations involving the Boston Red Sox is done, and a report will be issued before MLB resumes play. The cheating scandal has already resulted in significant penalties for the Houston Astros, and cost former Red Sox manager Alex Cora his job. 

“We are done with the [Red Sox] investigation,” Manfred said. “There’s been a delay in terms of producing a written report, just because I, frankly, have not had time to turn to it with the other issues. But we will get a Boston report out before we resume play.”

MLB for Opening Day instead is staging a wide-ranging content initiative called “Opening Day At Home,” that will see the re-airing of 30 classic games on various in-house media platforms and national media partners.