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Commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners have floated shortening the 2021 season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Yahoo Sports cited a source that confirmed that MLP asked to push back the start of the 2021 season after conferring with medical experts about the release of Covid-19 vaccines, however, the informal request was vetoed by the union.

The league has asserted it would use the coming weeks to consider the viability of opening spring training camps and the season on time, given the ongoing pandemic, the recent vaccine availability, and the economic impact of potentially beginning another season without fans in ballparks. The phone call to the union was intended to start a conversation that is likely to continue as the country’s health landscape changes.

The union has been adamant that a full, 162-game season is not only achievable but required under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement. When the league proposed the season be delayed, the union asked if players would be paid for a full season. The answer was no, that they would be paid on a pro-rata basis.

Five months after union chief Tony Clark, during contentious negotiations to start the 2020 season, demanded of the league, “Tell us when and where,” the union contends that this time it has its when and where: The third week of February, across spring training sites in Arizona and Florida, followed by April 1 opening day in 15 big-league ballparks.

What appears to be coming, then, is a replay of the weeks leading to last summer’s opener, in which the owners and the players bickered over the money left over from the pandemic’s reckoning. No longer bound by the March agreement that gave owners leverage over when the 2020 season would start, how long it would last and how the players would be paid, the union insists its players will show up with their duffel bags on schedule. Their argument: They’ve already played a (shortened) season under strict health and safety protocols, therefore proving the viability of a 2021 season.

Health officials have told the league it would be best to wait until players and personnel could be vaccinated. The timing of that is vague, however, and could vary from state to state.

Union officials agree that league-wide vaccinations are preferable, of course. They also contend the season could start under the same protocols of the past regular season. Then, as the vaccines become more available, those protocols could be lightened or discarded.

Meantime, the league is left to fret over what the latest surge in cases means for its season, if and when the vaccine will slow that increase and how to manage a moving health — and economic — target. It had hoped that a month or so delay would allow the sport to avoid some hard-hit areas and buy time for the vaccine to gain traction. The union views this not as an uncertainty, or perhaps not an uncertainty that has not already been safeguarded against, but as a time to get back to work.

Giants’ Gabe Kapler plans to get COVID-19 vaccine

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San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler watches the game from the dugout against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third inning at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

It’s unclear if Major League Baseball will require players, coaches and staff members to receive COVID-19 vaccines that are expected to be widely available to the general public by the middle of 2021, but San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler is among those who plan to get vaccinated anyway, according to Mercury News.

“I will get vaccinated but that is a personal choice,” Kapler said in a videoconference with reporters Tuesday. “At least right now, for me. I will be open to having conversations with our players and talking about anything they want to talk about.”

Kapler understands there could be skepticism among the players he manages with regard to receiving a new vaccine, but said he’s followed the vaccine development and approval process closely and is encouraged by what’s he’s learned.

“I believe in the science of the vaccine, I believe the FDA has approved the vaccine for a reason and that reason is extensive study,” Kapler said. “That’s why I will absolutely take the vaccine and at the same time, I will be sensitive to the concerns and the want to be educated of our players.”

After MLB teams played 60-game seasons in front of empty stadiums in 2020, owners want to be able to sell tickets to games in 2021. If MLB proceeds with its current schedule, it’s possible teams would have to play a significant amount of games with no fans in the stands or have reduced capacities in their stadiums with strict physical distancing and cleaning protocols depending on local jurisdictions.

The Giants have been working closely with local health officials in San Francisco throughout the pandemic to create and implement safety protocols when Oracle Park does reopen to the general public. The team is not expected to release details about potential protocols until much closer to the Giants’ first home game, which is tentatively scheduled for April 8 and could be pushed back if the league delays the season.

In interviews in recent days, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s senior official for infectious diseases, has expressed hope the United States could achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 by the summer. Reaching herd immunity is expected to lead to fewer restrictions, but it remains uncertain if MLB teams will be able to fill stadiums by the end of the 2021 season.
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