Will spring training 2021 begin on time? According to a USA Today report, MLB executives and owners want the report dates pushed back and the 2021 regular season delayed until May.
The idea is that a delayed start to spring training and the regular season would allow more time for players to take the COVID-19 vaccine, which started being distributed in the U.S. on Monday. Per the Wall Street Journal, the government plans to have more than 1,200 vaccine sites open by Sunday and to distribute 2.9 million doses with more to come. MLB wants to play a full season in 2021. Players don't want their salaries prorated again and teams will want as many games as possible for TV and attendance purposes, however limited crowds may be.
"To have 162 games, and start spring training at the normal time without players being vaccinated, that's just crazy," a National League owner told USA Today. "Does Arizona and Florida, with their cases spiking, really want teams with about 125 people in each organization coming to town without vaccines?"
The MLB players association's senior director of collective bargaining, Bruce Meyer, had this response in a statement to The Athletic:
"We've seen anonymous quotes attributed to club sources casting doubt on the start date and length of the season. To be clear, and as we've made clear to the league, players are planning on showing up for spring training on time for a full 162-game season as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the league's previously issued schedule."
Phillies manager Joe Girardi was asked this week whether he'd advise his players to take the vaccine. Here's what he said:
"I don't think I'm in a place to do that because I think everyone has to decide what is best for he or she. That's the important thing. But I think we learned a lot in 2020. I think we'll use a lot of what we learned in 2020 and apply it to 2021 depending on where we are and when we go back to spring training.
"I'm planning on going back to spring training at regular time, but there were so many unknowns last year and we figured out a way to get through them with medical experts and Major League Baseball and the players association. We'll rely on that again. I'm not sure what baseball will recommend to players."
If the regular season does not begin until May, the result could be a schedule that runs into November (which MLB wants to avoid), a schedule shorter than 162 games (which both sides would like to avoid), or a schedule that again includes more doubleheaders than usual.
"The (seven-inning) doubleheaders, I liked," Girardi said when asked Monday about 2020 rule changes. "I think you don't wear your players out nearly as much. I would be in favor of that (returning)."