Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s last season as a Major League Baseball player was also the last time that MLB did not start its season originally scheduled. The start of the 1995 season marked the final stage of what was ultimately a seven-and-a-half month player strike that also wiped out the end of the 1994 season, including the World Series. Opening Day, originally scheduled for April 2 that season, did not take place until April 26.
A quarter century later, Mattingly individually — and Major League Baseball as a whole — finds itself in this predicament again. However, the cause of it, and the impact in the interim, is much different.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced Thursday, two weeks before teams were set to begin the 2020 season, that the final 10 days of spring training would be suspended and the start of the regular season would be pushed back a minimum of two weeks due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.
“There was a timetable,” Mattingly said of the player strike. “We were moving forward. You knew you were going to get ready. You knew it was an abbreviated spring training. You had extra players to start. But it wasn’t like you start. Stop. Where do we go? What do we do?”
Right now, there are a lot more questions than answers as MLB attempts to figure out logistics for how the season will unfold and teams figure out plans for how to handle this delay to the season with no set date for resumption.
MLB, following an in-person meeting with MLB Players’ Association officials, released a statement Friday night officially ending spring training operations. Players are given three options: return home, remain in Spring Training locations (Jupiter, in the Marlins’ case), or return to their club’s home city.
“This step is in the best interest of players, employees and the communities who host Spring Training,” the statement reads.
The Marlins had a team meeting following Thursday’s spring training game and gave players Friday off to give the front office an opportunity to formulate a plan for how they want to proceed. Players will be notified on a group text once decisions are made.
“We’re taking it day by day,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said Thursday. “We’ll try to regroup and see where things are.”
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But questions still remain regarding what the Marlins plan to do. The Marlins are expected to meet this weekend to discuss their next steps.
Will the team stay at its training complex in Jupiter or head back to Marlins Park just 83 miles south on Interstate 95? Will players be allowed to work out and practice on their own if they want or will they remain together? How will player-specific regiments be impacted with no set start date to the season?
“We know we’re going to have time, and how do we ramp it back up? What do we do? That’s something that we talk about,” Mattingly said. “What’s the best way? How do we get there? How do we get to this point again, where you feel like you’re getting close to being ready? We haven’t really sat down and talked about it. Obviously, this is an unprecedented situation. It’s better to get together and think about it and talk about it before we start trying to make decisions, [rather] than me talking [now] about what we might do.”
The league said in its statement Thursday that “MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. 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.”
“A lot of this stuff we will tighten up as we get more information,” Hill said. “Just the overall safety of our players, our staff, our scouts, everybody is paramount. We just want to be mindful of that.”