Play Ball! Baseball fans will soon be hearing those iconic words uttered again in 2020. Or will they?
With the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 virus, many facets of American society were impacted. Sports and other entertainment were put on hold and have an uncertain future. Many wondered if sports would return to our television screens at all in 2020.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases began to steady within the United States, Major League Baseball announced that they would hold a shortened season. This notion was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the 30 MLB clubs and with the support of the MLB players association and the league itself. This season would see an increased amount of safety measures and rule changes to ensure the health and well-being of its players.
Although this announcement was music to the ears of many fans, it was not met without dissension. Several MLB players and fans alike criticized the idea of holding a baseball season amidst a pandemic, as the coronavirus has yet to be contained in the U.S.
While some states have seen a decline in positive cases, others, such as California and Florida, have been skyrocketing. The U.S. recently passed a foreboding milestone of 3 million confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. This is likely due to the lack of following safety precautions and protocol.
The CDC has implemented many safety measures for individuals to follow to remain as safe as possible during this time. States that have adhered to these guidelines have seen a decline in the number of positive cases while others that have a more flexible approach have suffered.
This begs the question of how will the MLB properly ensure the safety of its players and teams. Baseball games are played nationwide and require a good amount of travel. Further, the nature of the sport itself requires close contact to others. It would be nearly impossible to adhere to safety guidelines while playing a baseball game.
Several star players have decided to opt out of the shortened 2020 season. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake was the first to announce his decision to sit out this season. Other notable players followed suit in Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, Los Angeles Dodgers’ David Price, Atlanta Braves’ Nick Markakis, and Colorado Rockies’ Ian Desmond.
The act of MLB players sitting this season out has shone a light on the irresponsibility of this decision. The idea of having people risking their health for others’ financial gain is unsettling. The club owners, who can view the game from the safety of their homes, are essentially forcing their team of players to volunteer themselves to chance being infected and as a result, putting others at risk.
If a player decides to sit out the season, then other minor league players could called up to replace them. This notion is exploitative to the minor league players who will have to decide whether their health or possible future baseball career is more important.
Considering this, the players would have a lot to lose if they contract the virus. They could not only suffer serious health issues, but could also harm their friends and family. Zimmerman specifically cited this as his reason for opting out of the season, as he has a 3-week old child at home whose health he is not willing to compromise.
Despite pushback, the MLB has continued to pursue the idea of holding an MLB season in 2020. This includes the new set of safety measures and rules that are to be implemented immediately. The new regulations are steadily beginning to take shape as the MLB’s “Spring Training 2.0” began on July 1.
Players are submitted to COVID-19 testing before beginning workout sessions. They must test negative in order to participate. Coaches and other staff are required to test as well. Anyone who tests positive is required to self-quarantine for two weeks. In order to return to play, they must yield two further negative COVID-19 test results. In addition to this testing, players will receive routine daily temperature checks and monthly antibody testing.
The MLB has will also implement a series of rule changes for the 2020 season. The most significant change sees an adjustment to the game’s structure. If a game was to go past the traditional nine innings of play, a runner will begin on second base in each of the next half innings until the game concludes. This runner will be the batter who made the final out in the previous inning. This change is likely to speed up the game, reducing potential exposure time for players.
Further, the MLB has put a ban on spitting and chewing tobacco. Chewing gum is permitted, however. The MLB has also asked teams to institute social distancing practices in the bullpen and have non-playing individuals wear face masks. Teams must also have any non-essential personnel and players sit socially distanced in the stands while also wearing face masks.
Another change is the ban of celebratory gestures. Teams will not be allowed to high five, hug, fist bump or have another other celebratory contact with other players. The final change will be the implementation of a new injured players list of those who have contracted, been in confirmed contact with or show symptoms of COVID-19. This list will not have a minimum or maximum number of days like the normal injured player list.
As “Spring Training 2.0” has begun this past week, issues concerning the practicality of the new safety measures have been highlighted. The primary issue in this circumstance was a lack of test results. Although players submitted to being tested, several teams did not receive their results.
This miscommunication led the Astros, Cardinals and Nationals to cancel their practice.
“We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families,” said Washington Nationals manager Mike Rizzo.
This delay in test results led other teams to also push back their practice. The MLB eventually released a statement that some of the test results were affected by “unforeseen circumstances.”
This puts the whole plan of the MLB into question. If there are issues in testing during training, who’s to say that there will not be issues during the season?
Despite these setbacks, the MLB remains optimistic on the situation. They continue to trudge forward and assure teams that their health and safety is a priority. Will there be a 2020 MLB season? It is still looking uncertain. One thing is certain, however, players and personnel will have an increased chance of being exposed to COVID-19 if they play ball.
Contact John Locascio, the author of this article: firstname.lastname@example.org