Image Courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Garrett Farrell
Last week, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the league’s plan to begin games in the form of a 60-game season, and the MLB Players Association approved the measure, clearing the way for a return to play.
The plan covers everything from testing procedures to spring training procedures. Teams are required to take player temperatures every day when they arrive at their home stadium and test them for COVID-19 every other day. If a player’s temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, he will be tested regardless of the day and immediately sent home. Summer camp will be held only at teams’ home stadiums, and fans are strongly discouraged from visiting the stadium.
Several players have already opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about COVID-19, including Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Nationals. All Minor League games have been canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus.
There will be no exhibition games until the final weeks of summer camp, and unlike traditional spring training, there will be restrictions on which teams can play each other in exhibitions. Only teams in the same region, such as the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox, and teams that play each other in the first series of the season will be allowed to play exhibition games.
The plan includes some substantial rule changes as well, most notably the use of a designated hitter in all National League (NL) games. The format of extra innings is also changed; all extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. This runner will be either the player in the batting lineup immediately before the half inning’s leadoff hitter or a pinch-runner.
The season will only be 60 games, making it the shortest season of professional baseball in the game’s 150-year history. Teams will play 40 of their 60 games against their division, equivalent to two five-game series against each of the other teams in their division; the twenty remaining games will be played against teams in the opposite league and the same geographical region. For example, the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East will play its remaining games against teams from the American League East.
The players will be held to strict rules regarding behavior in an attempt to diminish the chances of spreading coronavirus from an asymptomatic player. Some such restrictions are that players may not high-five, hug, fist-bump, chew tobacco, or spit. All team members who are not playing must wear masks at all times in the dugouts or in the bullpens, and any player who is not likely to play in the game will be required to sit in the stands, at least six feet away from anyone else in the stands.
As expected, for the first time in the history of the MLB, fans will not be allowed to be present at games. However, some teams are finding ways to ensure that fans still feel like they’re part of the experience. The Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants have announced that they will allow fans to buy a cardboard cutout of themselves to be placed in Oracle Park or Oakland Coliseum. While there is no substitute for the experience of a packed game in a stadium, these plans add a small amount of normalcy to a season that will desperately need it.