By Ronald Blum, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is delaying the start of its season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak and suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule.
Opening day had been scheduled for March 26.
MLB had continued to play into Thursday and the announcement came while some exhibitions were still going on. But baseball changed course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he strongly recommended to local authorities and organizers that they limit all mass gatherings.
“MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” the commissioner's office said in a statement. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”
The March 26 start had been baseball's earliest scheduled opening other than for international games.
MLB had not had a mass postponement of openers since 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 following a 7 1/2-month strike that also wiped out the 1994 World Series. Opening day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26.
Player salaries were reduced by 11.1% in 1995 because the games were lost due to a strike.
If regular-season games are lost this year, MLB could attempt to reduce salaries by citing paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player's Contract, which covers national emergencies. The announcement Thursday said the decision was made “due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic."
“This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the player, club or the league,” every Uniform Player's Contract states.
The provision also states the agreement is “subject also to the right of the commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
Spring training games were suspended as of 4 p.m. EDT Thursday. Qualifying games for the 2021 World Baseball Classic also were called off.