MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred went on SportsCenter and spoke with host Scott Van Pelt about a litany of topics related to potential paths his league can take for the 2020 season in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Manfred stated that his goal was to have a season with a "credible amount of games" that would provide the "best possible entertainment product" for fans. The number of games, Manfred said, was obviously dependent on current public health concerns and whether they improve enough to safely stage games.
Van Pelt then asked if Manfred had a number of games in mind, throwing out 100 as an example. Manfred declined to comment on an exact figure, saying that depended on when MLB could safely play and that there isn't a "make-or-break" number.
Manfred did note that the league may have to be creative with the schedule to fit in more games and experiment with new ideas.
Van Pelt also asked about seven-inning doubleheaders, which occur in the minor leagues and recently received a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.
In response, Manfred said that he's noted in the past that there are some numbers you can't change, such as nine innings per game. However, Manfred said those comments weren't made with a worldwide public health crisis in mind, so he noted that he was "sure" the idea would "get some discussion."
A crucial part of the equation is whether fans will be allowed in the building to start. Manfred, in response, said that the fan experience was very important and that they were crucial to baseball.
Holding games without fans would cause "significant economic issues" for the game given its dependence on gate-related revenue. However, Manfred also said they'd only allow fans "as soon as public health considerations will allow."
Van Pelt then asked about best- and worst-case scenarios for this season. Here's what Manfred said about the sunny side up, per Evan Drellich of The Athletic:
"My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we'll be gearing back up. We'll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need."
Manfred also said that locations for a shortened "gearing-up" period would need to be decided (either in spring training facilities or each team's home city).
The worst-case scenario was no baseball at all, and to that, Manfred said if "it's not safe to resume play, then we have to accept reality." That, in turn, would cause hardship for fans, players and owners.
Both Manfred and Van Pelt noted baseball's role in helping the country return to normalcy after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Manfred mentioned attending the first game back in New York, when the host Mets beat the Atlanta Braves in MLB's return to the field following a one-week pause.
"Baseball will be back," he said, per ESPN's Jeff Passan. "Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic."
Van Pelt closed by inquiring about the league's most pressing standing issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with the sign-stealing scandals, most notably the investigations into the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox.
Manfred reiterated that the league's look into Houston is complete and that the investigation into Boston is as well. However, the report for the Red Sox has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That will be released before play resumes, however.
The Manfred interview comes after news from Passan that the target for a return to regular-season baseball is early June, with a truncated spring training of sorts in mid-May. Passan said the league would "love" to start in June but that July may be more realistic.
That late start, in turn, would cause regular-season games in October and a postseason into November, which could feature the first-ever neutral-site World Series (either in a warmer climate or in a city with a domed stadium) because of cold-weather concerns.