To date, since the pandemic began, the Arizona Department of Health Services has reported 727,895 cases of COVID-19 and 12,239 deaths.
With the rate of coronavirus infection higher in Arizona than in any other state in the country, the Cactus League has formally asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training.
"As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point", the letter reads.
The letter is a recommendation, not a demand, as the Cactus League itself does not have the authority to dictate the start of spring training. "But in view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County - with one of the nation's highest infection rates - we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here".
The Cactus League is home to 15 MLB teams: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
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Major League Baseball said in a statement that it "will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championship Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, Major League Baseball employees and other game day personnel in a sport that plays every day". Manfred issued a memo to teams a week ago, telling them to plan on spring training starting on the planned dates.
While the league was able to impose a shortened 60-game regular season in 2020 per the terms of an agreement with the union signed in March, it doesn't have the authority to unilaterally adjust the 2021 season under the current collective bargaining agreement.
The first Spring Training games in Arizona are scheduled to begin on February 27.
Surprise Stadium is one of a handful of Cactus League stadiums in Arizona. As Rosenthal noted, the league floated the idea of a delayed start in December, and the union declined to explore it because it would mean coming off their position of full pay. For the MLBPA, spring training games without fans would be an acceptable solution to ensure an on-time start to the season.
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