MLB commissioner 'hopeful' virus-hit season will begin

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday he's "hopeful" that concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and financial considerations can be overcome and allow a 2020 season to go ahead.

Speaking on CNN in a "Global Town Hall," Manfred insisted he was optimistic that MLB and players would come to terms and open a season that was due to start on March 26.

MLB has pitched a reopening plan to the MLB Players Association that would see play begin in July, with strict protocols in place to screen for COVID-19 and prevent spread of the deadly virus.

The union has reportedly balked at the suggestion that players take a further pay cut from the pro-rated salary rates they already agreed upon in April for a season expected to be shortened to about 82 games per club.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell said Wednesday that he was concerned about potential long-term health damage if he contracted COVID-19, and said he wasn't interested in assuming that risk for a lesser amount of money.

"It's not worth it," Snell said. "I love baseball and that, but it's just not worth it."

But Manfred said he believed clubs and players would come to terms.

"Whenever there's a discussion about economics, publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight," Manfred said. "Me, personally, I have great confidence that we'll reach an agreement with the players association both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved."

Manfred said loss of the entire season would be "devastating" for MLB clubs.

"We're a big business, but we're a seasonal business," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of the low point for us in terms of revenue. We hadn't quite started our season yet, and if we don't play a season the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion."

Manfred confirmed that MLB has suggested a return to play in empty stadiums in July. Players and others involved in the games would be subject to multiple COVID-19 tests with supplemental tests for virus antibodies.

He said MLB expects test results to be available in 24 hours in partnership with the lab that conducts baseball's drug testing. Those testing positive would be removed from their teams and contact tracing instituted.

Daily temperature and symptom checks would also be in place, he said.

"Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking," Manfred acknowledged. "We're trying to mitigate that risk with the repeated point-of-care testing to make sure that people who have had contact have not been exposed, and by obviously removing those individuals that have a positive test, they will be quarantined until they have two negative tests over a 24-hour period."

Any players who aren't comfortable with the measures would not be forced to come back, Manfred said.

"We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it's safe to return to work," he said.