A disagreement between Major League Baseball owners and players over COVID-19 protocols is brewing and could put the start of spring training in question, USA Today reported Tuesday.
On one side are team officials, who want players and team staff to be vaccinated against the virus before reporting to Arizona and Florida training sites — even if that means a delay to the start of the season and fewer games.
On the other side are the players, who want a full 162-game slate and their salaries in full, according to the report.
“I don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place,” a National League owner told USA Today on the condition of anonymity. “I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to spring training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it.”
The vaccine is being rolled out in limited quantities as production continues, with the most vulnerable — medical professionals and the elderly — among those to receive the first doses. Healthy younger people, such as baseball players, are not a priority group for vaccine distribution.
And players point to the fact they were able to finish a 60-game season and postseason, despite severe outbreaks among two teams and summer spikes in some states, as proof they safely can play a full schedule. They received just one-third of their salaries last year in the reduced season.
“Knowing what I know about last season, I feel that the 2021 season can be played in full,” Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said, per USA Today. “I’m hopeful for that. I’m just proud of everyone in the industry, from top to bottom, made that adjustment and made it work. We got to the finish line, there was a world champion for the 2020 season.
“I want us to explore the best possible options to play a full schedule and spring training.”
Spring training is scheduled to start with pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February. The regular season is set to begin on April 1 with all 30 teams in action.
Ownership, however, is aware gate receipts will be limited or non-existent, depending on their states, for the first several months of 2021, which will limit revenues and the ability to pay salaries. Fans were kept out of stadiums last season until the National League Championship Series and World Series in Arlington, Texas, where local authorities are more permissive than in many other states.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it is unlikely stadiums will be filled until the fall since it will take time for widespread vaccinations.
–Field Level Media