When it comes to another spring training, MLB better learn its lesson from 25 years ago

Rob Bradford
March 26, 2020 - 10:56 am
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(The following is an excerpt from "The Monday Baseball Column: A World Series MVP's Tom Brady Conundrum." To read the entire column, click here.)

Aaron Sele remembers that 1995 season well. He was, after all, the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter, giving up just one hit over five innings while getting the win.

But what the former pitcher also recalls is how spring training shook out that year and what can potentially be learned when baseball starts back up this time around.

“It’s so different than this. What that work stoppage was was just business. It’s a whole different thing,” Sele warns. “But …”

While the current coronavirus crisis is much different than the work stoppage 25 years ago, the similarity is that both will have led to a race to power through a delayed spring training long enough prepare the players for the season. In the case of 1995, the first day of workouts was April 7 with the opener taking place 2 1/2 weeks later.

“As a young player you didn’t really know what was going on,” recalled Sele, who got the Opening Day nod because of Roger Clemens’ groin injury. “It was start, stop, start, stop, go. That’s what I remembered about it. Hey, we’re going to go. No, we’re not. Hey, we’re going to go, No, we’re not. Hey, we’re going to go … Start.

“Major League Baseball really doesn’t matter compared to everything else that is going on, but once it starts they need to be well aware of the injury risks of the shortened spring training. And that is what everybody has fought for years. Why is spring training so long? Well, you need it for pitchers.”

The hasty preparation came back to haunt Sele, who ended up making just six starts before being shut down for the season with a shoulder injury.

“I was 23 years old. I used to think I could just pick up a baseball, play catch for a couple of days and be ready to go,” See said. “Because you’re so young it’s kind of what you did. But that was going to be my first full season. As a player, I wasn’t prepared for the grind of a full season because I had never played a big-league season. 1994 was shortened and ’95 you’re trying to get ready to go, so personally, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was ready and obviously making six starts and then blowing out and missing the rest of the season I wasn’t ready.

“The biggest key MLB has to worry about is obviously the safety of its fans and its workers. But the players? I would suggest a longer version than probably what they’re going to have. Obviously, you don’t need all of spring training, but you need consistency of when it is going to start. That’s what I remember them saying we’re going to go on this date and then we didn’t. We’re going to go on this date, and then we didn’t. And then you eventually go, ‘They don’t know when they are going.’ And then they say to go and you’re like, ‘Crap! Here we go.’ At 24 years old you’re like I’m fine, whatever. But obviously, it didn’t work.”

Update: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred touched on the timeline when appearing on ESPN Wednesday night saying, "My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we'll be gearing back up. We'll have to make a determination, depending on what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need."