Dr. Anthony Fauci on 2021 MLB season: 'Do as best as you can to protect the players'

·3 min read

Dr. Anthony Fauci didn't have a lot of time to watch the Washington Nationals last season. Fauci — who was working 18-19 hours a day — was busy trying to offer advice on how to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

There's hope that things will be better in 2021. With daily coronavirus cases declining, and multiple vaccines being rolled out in the United States, it's possible even Fauci would be comfortable going to a Nats game later this year.

That will depend on how well the United States is able to contain the virus in the next couple months. It will also depend on how well MLB and its players handle protocols this time around. Fauci has a sense of that, as he met with both the league and its players regarding health and safety protocols in February.

Fauci presented data to both entities, but did not make a recommendation on whether MLB should play as normal, according to the New York Times.

"I was not recommending one way versus the other because it was very clear that there was tension between the Major League Baseball leadership and the Players Association — that the players wanted to get the season going on schedule and there was some concern about whether or not they should delay it, which would have salary and other implications. I couldn’t get involved in that.

"The only thing I said was that, from a public health standpoint, it looks like the cases — if you look at the plotting of the cases — they have peaked, they’re turning around and are starting to come down. And likely, the more time that goes by, the less and less cases we’ll see. Unless — unless — and this is a possibility, we have an unexpected surge related to some of the variants. So I think it would really be a close call and I didn’t want to get into any of the dispute about delay it or not delay it."

Though vaccines are being distributed, and the pandemic seems to be getting better around the country, Fauci still preached caution to the league and its players.

"I just would say that whatever you do, you’ve got to do as best as you can to protect the players and the people associated with the game because you don’t want them to wind up getting infected," Fauci told the New York Times.

MLB, union at odds over start of season

As Fauci explained, he didn't want to get involved in the labor issues between the league and its players. In January, MLB offered a proposal to the union that involved pushing the season back one month and playing 154 games. The union rejected that deal, opting to begin the season on time and play a full slate of games. Because of that, pitchers and catchers will start reporting to camp Feb. 17.

The league and the union are also at odds over other labor issues — like the universal designated hitter — but still managed to come together on new health and safety protocols for the 2021 MLB season. Those protocols did not include a universal designated hitter, leading some to believe the issue won't be discussed again until the collective-bargaining agreement expires in December.

While the universal designated hitter is not expected to be a controversial issue, labor negotiations are expected to be contentious, leading some to believe a lengthy strike could be coming.

More from Yahoo Sports: