MLB boss says public health key to baseball's return

Los Angeles (AFP) - Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the season won't open until officials are sure it won't be a detriment to public health.

Manfred, speaking on the Fox Business program "Mornings with Maria," said MLB officials continue to ponder a variety of scenarios for the resumption of sports in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

With so many unknowns, he said, they are more "ideas" than plans.

"The only decision we have made, the only real plan that we have, is that baseball is not going to return until the public health situation is improved to the point that we're comfortable that we can play games in a manner that is safe for our players, our employees, our fans and in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely," Manfred said.

"Right now, it's largely a waiting game," he added.

"During that period, as you might expect any business would, we have engaged in contingency planning. We thought about how we might be able to return in various scenarios but again the key is the improvement in the public health situation."

The 2020 MLB season was scheduled to open on March 26, but has been postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has idled sports leagues worldwide.

In the meantime, ESPN reported Tuesday that MLB teams will take part in a "massive" study that will test up to 10,000 people for coronavirus antibodies, which could offer researchers a better sense of how widespread the disease is in major metropolitan areas in the United States.

Scientists involved told ESPN the study, which is being run by Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, wouldn't necessarily hasten the return of the games.

But the tests, which rely on blood drawn via pinprick, can confirm if people had contracted coronavirus, even if they never displayed symptoms.

Doctor Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford said MLB's speedy willingness to participate and the fact that they could marshal a wide range of people -- from players and executives through concession workers -- made them a solid partner in the study.

"They've been enormously cooperative and flexible," Bhattacharya said. "We're trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it's going to be a matter of weeks."