The decision came in a league-wide conference call Monday, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN and Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The NBA also decided Monday to restrict access of reporters as well, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted at the same on Saturday.
Baseball reporters will still be able to talk to players, but it will be outside of the clubhouse and with some social distance, per recommendations from the Center for Disease Control. The decision was announced via joint statement between MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS, and will go into effect Tuesday.
Earlier Monday, several media organizations including the Baseball Writers Association of America and Associated Press Sports Editors issued a joint statement regarding the potential for limited access:
We the entities covering pro and college sports in North America are concerned with the developing international outbreak of coronavirus and the need to contain it. We understand precautions may be necessary in the name of public health. We are intent on working with the leagues, teams and schools we cover to maintain safe work environments. We also must ensure the locker room access — which we have negotiated over decades — to players, coaches and staff is not unnecessarily limited in either the short or long term. We look forward to open communication with the leagues as, together, we deal with this serious health matter.
The first major sporting event in Southern California to be affected by the coronavirus was the BNP Paribas Open, the popular annual tennis tournament in Indian Wells that was canceled on Sunday, four days before play was scheduled, citing “concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event.”
Riverside County Department of Health, where the Paribas Open is played, confirmed three more known coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the county up to six cases, amid a health emergency.
In Orange County, the Department of Health still says risk of public infection is low, and for now, “there is no recommendation to cancel business or social events.”
As of now, there are no plans for MLB to cancel games, or even restrict the fans. But that could change should conditions worsen.
“We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary,” Major League Baseball said in a statement. “While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play spring training and regular season games as scheduled.”
The last time a major league game was played with no fans was April 29, 2015 between the White Sox and Orioles amid civil unrest in Baltimore. That was the finale of a series that saw the first two games postponed because of rioting near the ballpark, and was played during a city-wide curfew during the day.