Right before Opening Day, I was all set to write a mea culpa. Major League Baseball had sailed through spring training with virtually no disruption from COVID-19. So, regarding my position in late January that the league and union should delay the season by one month if they could (ahem!) make the economics work, I was going to say I was never so happy to be wrong.
But as Opening Day neared, infection rates in some parts of the country again began to rise. I never wrote my revised opinion, fearing it would look dumb if April turned into a mess for the sport. No such mess transpired in the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season, which included two no-hitters, electric performances from Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Jacob deGrom and a glorious first showdown between the Dodgers and Padres. Then again, the virus disrupted the Nationals, Astros and Twins to varying degrees, so it would be a stretch to say everything has gone smoothly.
Which isn’t to say my original opinion was correct. Frankly, I’m no longer sure delaying Opening Day until May 1 and allowing players to become fully vaccinated would have made much difference. A number of players do not wish to be vaccinated, as evidenced by the difficulty several teams face trying to reach the 85 percent threshold required to relax health and safety protocols. Variants of the virus also have surfaced, and one was directly responsible for the Twins’ four positive tests, according to a high-ranking team official.
My original opinion had been in line with the league’s, which had said it wanted a delay, citing health and safety reasons. The union, suspecting the league’s motives were more economically driven, might have been open to the idea of starting later and ending later. But by the time the league proposed to shorten the season to 154 games and pay the players for 162 in exchange for an expanded postseason, spring training was less than three weeks away. The union rejected the proposal, citing language it believed would grant commissioner Rob Manfred too much power to cancel games in the event of an outbreak. The players, in the midst of preparations for spring training, also were reluctant to entertain a stop-and-start scenario similar to what they experienced in 2020.