Major League Baseball informed the players’ union Monday that several major-league players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19, believing it might be unsafe to start the season early even if they soon reach an agreement in their labor dispute.
The news of the positive tests, and fear of a second wave of the virus wiping out the postseason, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem says, is the primary reason they are adamant about finishing the regular season on Sept. 27.
He vigorously denies the union’s assertion that MLB is stalling to play as few regular-season games as possible to save money.
“Your recent letters have all expressed the concern, in one form or another, that players are being ‘asked to take on extraordinary burdens and risks in the current environment,’” Halem said Monday in a letter to lead union attorney Bruce Meyer, obtained by USA TODAY Sports. “However, the Association’s proposals to play as many games as possible, as deep into the fall as possible, increases the health risks to players and staff, which is not something we are prepared to do.
“We strongly disagree with your assertion that our concern about player health and safety in the midst of the greatest health crisis in our lifetime is a ‘pretext’ to play fewer games. As you are aware, while the language in [the March 26 agreement] states that the Office of the Commissioner will use ‘best efforts to play as many games as possible,’ a very important qualifier to that provision is that the schedule must take into account ‘player safety and health.’
“That qualifier was inserted ... because neither party had crystal ball in March 2020 to predict the COVID-19 situation at the time the 2020 season was to resume (if at all).’’
There are at least 12 states that have experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, Halem told Meyer, and that medical and health officials told MLB to anticipate the virus worsening in the fall.
“We believe it presents a heightened and unnecessary health risk to your membership to play deeper into the Fall,’’ Halem said in his letter, while also asserting that doubleheaders would increase the risk of COVID-19 with players and staff congregating for twice the amount of time in a day, which would restrict social distancing.
“The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks.
“I note that both the NBA and NHL, two leagues which you repeatedly reference in your letter, do not intend to resume play until about August 1, and both intend to resume play at a limited number of sites with a quarantine approach. Please let us know the Association’s views on quarantining players in league-approved hotels (like the NBA’s Disney World model) when they are not at the ballpark if conditions worsen over the next few weeks. (You told us in the spring that players were opposed to that scenario, which is why we explored alternative scenarios, but let us know if that position has changed.)
“If the players remain opposed to quarantine measures, please explain why you feel it is safe for baseball to return to play without a quarantine type approach, and to do so sooner, and play later into the Fall, than the other professional sports that intend to use those measures.’’
Major League Baseball’s last proposal to the union called for a 72-game season, guaranteeing players 70% of their pro-rated regular-season salary, and 83% if the World Series is completed. The union’s last proposal called for full pro-rated pay over 89 games.
“Your refusal to play any games in October,’’ Meyer wrote to Halem on June 9, “remains unreasonable and unsupported. You can play more baseball games than that and you owe it to your players and fans to do so. Among other things, concerns about a second wave in October.
“Among other things, concerns about a second wave in October and November are apparently not going to stop other leagues from playing during those months.’’
If MLB insists the regular season ends Sept. 27, there will be only 70 days on the calendar if the season starts July 20, with no days off. Players are expected to be given seven to 10 days to report to spring training and undergo testing, with at least three weeks of spring training, once an agreement is reached.
Read more at usatoday.com