About three weeks before White Sox and Cubs pitchers and catchers are expected to report to spring-training camps in Arizona, the Cactus League on Monday raised concerns about a possible delay by asking commissioner Rob Manfred to hold off the start, citing the high coronavirus infection rate in Maricopa County.
The letter was co-signed by the mayors of Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale, Goodyear and Peoria and other representatives from the Phoenix community, although Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher later told ESPN that “if it is determined spring-training [games are] going to start on Feb. 27, we’re prepared for that.”
The Cactus League doesn’t have the authority to force a delay, and the players’ union wants to start on time with the goal of playing a full 162-game schedule.
“The letter states that after meeting with Major League Baseball, the Cactus League Association ‘believes it is wise’ to delay the start of spring training in Arizona,” the union said in a statement. “The letter correctly notes that MLB does not have the ability to unilaterally make this decision.
“While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season, and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible.”
The players want a full season and the full pay that goes with it, while MLB, anticipating games with limited fan attendance and revenues, would prefer to delay the start of spring training and the season.
Said MLB in a statement: “We will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts and the Players Association on whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of spring training and the [regular] season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other game-day personnel in a sport that plays every day.”
MLB imposed a shortened 60-game regular season in 2020, according to the terms of a union agreement signed in March, but it doesn’t have the authority to adjust the 2021 season under the current collective-bargaining agreement.
The union also turned down a December offer from MLB to permanently adopt an expanded postseason and the universal designated hitter.