Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred pauses while speaking to the media...

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred pauses while speaking to the media at the owners meeting in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.  Credit: AP/LM Otero

MLB’s return this year may be subject to the coronavirus clock, but commissioner Rob Manfred still believes that his sport’s time ultimately will come.

Manfred expressed that optimistic view in Monday’s letter to clubs, according to ESPN, just as he was informing them that uniform employee contracts would be suspended effective May 1.

“I fully anticipate baseball will return this season,” Manfred wrote.

The timetable, however, remains unclear.

Manfred repeatedly has stressed that MLB will follow the guidelines put forth by the CDC, although those policies  now vary from state to state. The commissioner has found a recent ally in Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told the YES Network on Monday that he not only foresees baseball returning this summer but  thinks it might be possible to have spectators in some stadiums as long as they practice physical distancing.

As of now, MLB has discussed at least three different plans: one focusing on Arizona, another involving Arizona and Florida and a third that includes those two states plus Texas, as first reported by CBS Sports. Fauci has supported the idea of quarantining teams and playing all the games in centralized locations, but Manfred has remained exceedingly cautious in saying that the public health concerns are paramount in any of these discussions.

MLB also has more obstacles to clear with the union, which has bristled in recent days at the suggestion that players would need to take further reductions in pay if games are hosted at neutral sites with no spectators. Union chief Tony Clark flatly stated Monday that in his mind, those issues had been resolved on March 26 with the agreement that said players would be paid prorated contract salaries based on the number of games.

There is a provision, however, that allows  MLB to reopen those negotiations in the event of the no-fan scenario. Clubs typically earn 40% of their yearly income from gate revenue, which includes ticket sales and concessions.

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