The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Coronavirus delays 2020 MLB season; interruptions part of league

We are in unchartered waters with the suspension, delay, or cancellation of all the major professional and collegiate sports across the country due to concern for the spread of coronavirus.  Within a matter of a couple of days, the sports world was rocked like never before, as virtually all sporting events have come to a screeching halt.  Major League Baseball was no exception.  While never as severe as what we are experiencing now, MLB had to deal with all types of interruptions in its gloried past.


Even though MLB faced the gravity of non-baseball events like World War II, the 9/11 terrorist strike, hurricanes, and earthquakes, none of them materially affected the game like the novel coronavirus is expected to do.


On the other hand, work stoppages involving several player-strikes and owners-lockouts, as a result of expiring baseball labor contracts, did interrupt major league schedules on three occasions.  Two of them had significant impacts on season outcomes.  While is it too early to tell the full effect of coronavirus, it appears there will be at least a two-week impact.


Following a call on Wednesday with the thirty major-league clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB had decided to suspend spring training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.


One would think the United States’ involvement in World War II would have caused an interruption to major-league baseball.  However, prior to the 1942 season, President Roosevelt issued the “Green Light” letter to MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Landis encouraging the league and baseball’s owners to continue play during the war.  His rationale was that the country needed a diversion from the everyday worries about the fighting overseas.  This theme would re-occur several times in later years, especially following natural disasters in the country.


In the case of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers in 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended play for a week, while players and fans, especially those in New York City, dealt with the emotional aftermath of the terrorist strikes.  The end of the season was pushed back a week to accommodate a full 162-game schedule.  One of the most historic games in baseball involved the Yankees and Mets in the resumption of the season’s schedule.  In the game which honored 9/11 first responders, President Bush threw out the first pitch amid a highly charged, patriotic crowd.


The 1989 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants was interrupted by an earthquake in the Bay Area of San Francisco.  While the teams were warming up for Game 3 on October 17, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Candlestick Park, and the game was postponed due to safety concerns, as well as the fact that power was lost to the stadium.  After considerations for ending the Series after only two games, as well as resuming the Series in another city, Commissioner Fay Vincent decided to wait until Candlestick could be checked for safety to resume the Series.  Vincent felt the communities in the Bay Area would see the remaining games as a partial relief for the loss of lives and the destruction caused by the quake.  Games 3 and 4 were played on October 27-28, as the A’s swept the Giants.


In the wake of Hurricane Ike in mid-September 2008 affecting the Houston metropolitan area, MLB moved two Astros home games with the Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee, because it was believed the Astros shouldn’t play at home given the devastation and loss of power in the area that affected many of its fans.  Chicago won both of those games, with Carlos Zambrano throwing a no-hitter in the first one.  The Astros, who were trying to make up ground in a race with the Cubs for the division title, were furious about the move which effectively became home games for the Cubs.


The Astros’ schedule was again interrupted by a hurricane in 2017.  Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in the area, thus necessitating the move of a three-game home series against the Texas Rangers to a neutral site in Tampa.  When the Astros returned to Houston a few days later to play the Mets, it helped the city return to a sense of normalcy following the devastation which took the lives of 40 people.


More significant impacts to major-league play have occurred because of labor disputes between the player and ownership.


The first MLB strike ensued during April 1-13, 1972, over issues of player pensions and binding arbitration.  86 games were missed during the two weeks.  1985 saw a work stoppage of only two days in August over issues of salary arbitration, although the games were made up later in the season.


The 1981 season was the second that experienced games being missed without being re-scheduled, except it was more significant.  A work stoppage occurred during June 12 and July 31 due to issues involving free-agent compensation.  A total of 712 games were missed, causing MLB to go to an unprecedent split-season format.  The season resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game, which had originally been scheduled for July 14.  The winners of the two halves of the season for each division met in the post-season playoffs.


A black eye for Major League Baseball occurred in 1994 when the season was cancelled on August 12, because the owners and players couldn’t agree on issues of salary cap and revenue sharing.  It was the first year since 1904 that a World Series wasn’t played.  With players still on strike at the beginning of the 1995 season, owners used replacement players (referred to as scabs) to begin spring training.  A district court judge’s ruling finally resolved the dispute, ending the strike on March 31.  After a hurried spring training for the players, the regular season began on April 25.  A total of 938 games were missed over the two seasons.


The best-case scenario today would be a two-week delay, but it’s not improbable the delay will be longer.  In any case, it will be interesting to see whether the league will adjust the schedule going forward.  Will they resume with the original schedule, or attempt to adjust in some way so that each team gets an equal number of home games?  Would the regular season be extended past the normal October 1 end date?  If the post-season occurs later than usual, getting into extreme cold weather situations, will neutral sites be used?  These are all questions that will likely become the topic of conversation in the coming days, in lieu of talking about the rest of spring training and Opening Day.  


It’s ironic that the game of baseball has often been the respite for fans who have experienced some sort of disruption or tragedy in their lives.  Now, the sport itself is in trouble, too, with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

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