MLB sends union, players ‘daunting’ health protocols on how to play game safely in a pandemic
Get ready, because if a Major League Baseball season is played this summer, it will look like nothing we’ve ever seen in the sport’s history.
Gone will be the traditional exchange of lineup cards.
There will be no more bench-clearing brawls, or even hitters charging the mound, with fighting strictly prohibited.
No high-fives. No low-fives. No fist bumps. No spitting. No sunflower seeds. No chewing tobacco.
Players will sit in the stands during games and stay six feet from one another in the dugouts.
And bringing players back to their Little League roots, players will be asked to shower at home or in their hotel rooms on the road.
This is part of the draft health-and-safety proposal, the “2020 Operations Manual,’ from MLB to the Major League Baseball Players Association, and distributed Saturday to all of the players. This is just the first draft, which includes as many 10,000 COVID-19 tests conducted per week, which will be modified after consulting with the union, clubs and medical officials.
In this 67-page draft, the resumption of spring training would begin in mid-June, with teams having the option to stage it at their own home ballparks or at their spring-training sites in Arizona and Florida. The 82-game regular season would begin the first week of July.
"The vision for this season is far different than any of ever of us ever imagined we would take part in," Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller says. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)
“At first glance, I think it’s very thorough,’’ St. Louis Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller, who is on the union’s executive subcommittee, said in a text to USA TODAY Sports. “There is a lot of responsibility put on players and staff to do their part to avoid the virus. The vision for this season far different than any of ever of us ever imagined we would take part in.
“The challenge to socially distance from our teammates is especially daunting and sacrifices on how we prepare will be constant. I know the players’ association is working right now to make sure nothing is overlooked.
“It will take time, but we will get it right.’’
Yes, the responsibility to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is tremendous.
The proposal obtained by USA TODAY Sports, which was first reported by The Athletic, calls for daily multiple temperature screenings, including at home and on the road, before team members even coming to the stadium. There will be multiple COIVD-19 tests during the week given to the players, and even family members. The league will also offer free diagnostic and antibody/serology testing for healthcare workers or other first responders.
The proposal says that anyone who tests positive would be immediately quarantined. The player can return only after receiving two negative tests, showing no symptoms and being approved by team medical personnel. It also says that “high-risk individuals’’ have the option to opt out of playing.
The 2020 MLB season, if held, will have no fans in the stands, but players will have to sit there. (Photo: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports)
Players will be required to wear masks everywhere except the field and are prohibited from leaving the hotel on the road to frequent a restaurant, bar or even shop without receiving permission from team personnel. MLB is also prohibiting players from fraternizing or socializing with those on other teams before, during and after games, asking that they remain at least six feet from one another at all times.
“The careless actions of a single member of the team places the entire team (and their families) at risk, and teams should agree on their own off-field code of conduct for themselves and their family members,’’ the document reads, “to minimize the risk to the team.’’
Meanwhile, there would be three phases of a three-week spring training. It requires all players and support staff to undergo a screening within 72 hours of their report date, that will require a blood test, nasal swab or saliva and a temperature reading. Those who test negative after a 24- to 48-hour quarantine will be permitted to be in spring training while those who test positive would be placed in self-isolation until they twice test negative.
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Pitchers and catchers will arrive first, then the positive players a few days later, and a limited number of exhibition games played. The workouts must be staggered throughout the day in small groups. Teams that choose to have spring training in Arizona and Florida will play those games between 7-9 p.m. local time because of the summer heat.
The proposal also limits the number of players and coaches and clubhouse staff on each team. There can be a maximum of 50 players, eight coaches, two bullpen catchers, two trainers, two team physicians and one strength and conditioning coach. They must use lockers situated six feet apart, while distancing themselves in the dugout.
The games will still have walk-up songs for the players, but there will be no out-of-town scores shown or replays since there will be no fans in attendance, anyways, at least at the outset.
Why, pitchers are even asked to bring their own rosin bag to the mound, with batters taking their own pine tar and batting donuts to and from the on-deck circle.
Sorry, there will be no batboys or batgirls to help.
Players on opposing teams should not socialize, fraternize, or come within six feet of each other before the game, during warm-ups, in-between innings or after the game.
When players are on the road, their freedom will be restricted. The only people permitted to visit players at their hotel are immediate family members. Socializing with friends or distant other family members is strongly discouraged.
The hotels on the road will be required to have a private entrance for the players or block off times when the players are leaving or entering the lobby. They will also request that all rooms are on lower-level floors to reduce the need for an elevator. And don’t even think about using the hotel’s pool, gym or sauna.
It’s all wrapped up in 67 pages, complete with diagrams for social distancing recommendations, whether sitting in the dugout or organizing fielding practices.
It is daunting. Perhaps impractical to fully regulate. But then again, maybe completely necessary if there is going to be Major League Baseball this summer.
A game like we’ve never seen before.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale
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