On the day the 2020 Major League Baseball season was supposed to begin, commissioner Rob Manfred vowed the game would return as part of the recovery from the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.
"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 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."
The 2020 season was scheduled to begin Thursday. While Manfred said there is nothing off the table yet in terms of the length and format of the season should baseball return, he said it's unlikely a typical 162-game season can be played.
Options are being discussed between MLB and its players on how to return to action once a panel of infectious-disease experts gives Manfred the all clear.
Spring Training was shuttered on March 16 and Manfred said there is a faction of baseball that is pushing for a three- or four-week buildup to the season to take place in the home markets of all 30 teams. For example, the Milwaukee Brewers could play exhibitions in their home park against the Minnesota Twins or Chicago White Sox. The New York Yankees could host the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals and New York Mets.
"I think it will mark a real milestone in the return to normalcy," Manfred said. "I think you saw it after 9/11, in terms of the resumption of play. I was there in Shea Stadium that night we began playing. It was one of the most memorable games I've ever 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."
Manfred didn't shoot down the idea of playing doubleheaders and even shortening those games to seven innings. The historically traditionalist approach to the game is part of Manfred's fiber as a commissioner but he said it's time for baseball to think outside the box.
"I have said publicly before that there's some numbers in baseball you can't change. Nine innings is one of them," Manfred said.
"When I said that, I wasn't thinking about this particular crisis. So I'm sure it's something that will get some discussion."
"Nothing's off the table for us right now. 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."