MLB suspends spring training, delays Opening Day at least two weeks

MLB delaying Opening Day by at least two weeks (1:44)

Jeff Passan explains why MLB decided to delay Opening Day by at least two weeks and what the reaction is around baseball. (1:44)

Major League Baseball is delaying the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced Thursday.

MLB also said in a statement that spring training games have been suspended, starting at 4 p.m. ET Thursday.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and the league's owners held a conference call Thursday afternoon to formalize the plan.

"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," MLB said in its statement.

The announcement came while some spring training games in Florida were still in progress. MLB followed the NBA, NHL, MLS and college basketball tournaments in altering schedules because of the pandemic.

MLB had been scheduled to open its season March 26, with all 30 teams in action. Manfred left open whether each team still would play 162 games.

Players had been awaiting a decision. On Thursday, before the announcement, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price walked into the team's facility and said: "It's gotta happen. This is so much bigger than sports. I've got two kids."

Added New York Yankees star Giancarlo Stanton: "It's unfortunate, but I think it's the proper measure we need to take now given the situation the country's in and the world's in. It's important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment. Once we're able to hopefully get a hold on some things and get some questions answered, we can figure out when things can continue."

Multiple teams had already pulled scouts off the road and sent them home because of coronavirus concerns, sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan. Others have canceled all travel.

Shortly after MLB announced its decision to delay the start of its regular season, Minor League Baseball followed suit. In a statement, MILB announced, "After consultation with medical professionals and our partners at Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball will delay the start of the 2020 Championship Season." The minor league season was scheduled to begin on April 9.

The MILB statement was a bit more open-ended than MLB's announcement in that there was no mention of a minimum delay. However, it said, "We will continue to monitor the developments and will announce additional information about the 2020 season at a later date. We will work with [MLB] and our community partners to resume play as soon as it is safe to do so."

Additionally, qualifying in Arizona for this year's Olympic baseball tournament and for next year's World Baseball Classic have been delayed.

The major leagues have not had a mass postponement of openers since 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 following a 7½-month strike that also wiped out the 1994 World Series. Opening Day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26.

Seattle Mariners owner John Stanton, speaking at the team's camp in Peoria, Arizona, said he wasn't confident the MLB regular season would start on April 9.

"We're ultimately all people," he said. "We all love the game of baseball, but this is a far bigger issue for all of us right now, and we're trying to work our way through it together. I believe that this is going to be something that will have a lot more twists and turns to it."

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recommended to owners of Chicago teams that they should not play until May 1 or play games without spectators.

"All of the owners that I spoke with told me they completely understood and were more than willing to comply with this guidance," said Pritzker, who also mandated the shutdown of public events of more than 1,000 people and recommended gatherings of more than 250 be called off. "I want to thank them for putting the health and safety of the residents of our state above all else."

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."

Players usually get paid only during the regular season, on the 15th and final days of each month, and the delay could become especially burdensome for minor leaguers who live paycheck to paycheck. Many rely on being fed at team complexes, and while some have on-complex housing, others are stretching to pay for apartments in Florida or Arizona during spring training.

"Every decision we make will be done with as much empathy and thought as possible for everyone's standing," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "Everyone's affected by this differently and we want to make sure everyone has what they need to continue to stay healthy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.