MLB spring training: Cactus League wants delay due to COVID-19

Arizona's Cactus League. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Arizona's Cactus League. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

MLB spring training may be delayed as Cactus League cites COVID-19 rates

Officials from the Arizona cities that host the Cactus League and several MLB spring training complexes have written a letter to commissioner Rob Manfred requesting to push back the start of MLB spring training in Arizona.

The letter cites high COVID-19 infection rates in Maricopa County. The city managers of both Phoenix and Tempe signed the letter, as did the mayors of Goodyear, Mesa, Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale and Glendale. The letter was also signed by the president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

This development had to be seen by most as a “when” rather than an “if.”

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Brahm Resnik, a reporter for KPNX-TV in Phoenix broke the news of the development Monday morning.

The municipal governments that comprise the hosts of the Cactus League have no authority over when spring training begins, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.

But with the start of MLB spring training in both Florida and Arizona less than a month away, MLB has not provided any information about what sort of protocols it will put in place at those facilities.

Half of MLB’s 30 teams have their spring training complexes in Arizona:

Cactus League play is scheduled to begin with a slate of eight games on Feb. 27.

Spring training in both Arizona and Florida was suspended March 12 of last year, a stoppage that remained in place until what was dubbed Spring Training 2.0 started in mid-July, with teams training in their home cities in preparation for the 60-game 2020 season.

Last year, Cactus League officials announced the economic impact from spring training was down more than $280 million and the state’s Gross Domestic Product fell nearly $160 million over 2018 numbers. The estimated economic impact last spring was $363.6 million, with a $213.7 million bump to the state GDP.

A total of 89 games were lost in Arizona due to the pandemic. Of the scheduled 237 games, 139 were played with nine games being rained out. Games drew 912,956 fans last spring and 12 teams had their largest crowds of the spring in the final week before play was suspended.

According to the letter, a delay will allow time for Arizona’s COVID-19 infection rate to drop by nearly 70 percent, from 9,712 daily infections projected on Feb. 15 to 3,072 projected on March 15). The figures cited came from data made public by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

If spring training is pushed back a month, it stands to reason the beginning of the regular season — currently scheduled for April 1 — would have to be delayed as well. Besides last season, MLB has delayed the start of the season and shortened the schedule on two other occasions.

The first was in 1972 after a players’ strike wiped out 86 games over 13 days, with the season starting on April 15. The lost games were not rescheduled, leading to teams playing various numbers of games between 153-156.

One divisional race was dramatically impacted, as the Detroit Tigers (86-70) won the American League East by ½ game over the Boston Red Sox (85-70), with the margin due to the uneven schedules.

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In 1995, the season opened on April 25 and lasted 144 games after owners locked the players out of spring training after the end of the previous season — including the playoffs and World Series — were scrubbed due to another players’ strike.