Good news: Turns out MLB officials weren’t sitting around on their aspirations the last three months after all!
It may have seemed as if they were just stonewalling the union, but they were also putting together an operations manual on the off chance that everyone snapped to their senses. And not just any operations manual, either. The level of detail in this 101-page puppy, acquired by the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant, would put to shame the safety team at a nuclear plant.
Officials hoped these rules and guidelines would “return a sense of normalcy” to our way of life. Only there’s nothing normal about any of this.
Any player who sticks to the guidelines laid out in this manual should get an MVP award. Or at least an Eagle Scout badge.
Consider a day in the life of a big league ballplayer in 2020:
First thing he does each morning is ask himself 19 yes-or-no questions as to how he feels. The symptoms range from the usual, such as coughs and shortness of breath, to the esoteric, as in “Rash or ‘COVID toes.’ ”
Once he figures out what that means, he takes his temperature. Twice. Then he asks himself if he’s been in contact with anyone in the previous two weeks who might have COVID-19 or anybody in self-quarantine. He enters his answers on a mobile app.
At the ballpark, he takes the same test all over again, only this time someone else administers it. If he has a temperature higher than 100.4 on either set of tests and any of the symptoms, the information is relayed to MLB. The symptomatic player then answers more questions. Reveals everyone he’s been close to. Puts on a mask and self-quarantines. If he’s at the park, he goes to a special room and awaits transport to another facility and a round of more stringent tests.
Before a player with a positive test can come back, he must test negative twice at intervals of at least 24 hours and record no fever for the previous 72 hours.
Let’s say our player clears both rounds of tests. He puts on his mask and heads for the clubhouse. Did I mention MLB thinks it’s best if he shows up at the park in uniform? Apparently the less time spent in the clubhouse, the better. This would explain why players are also discouraged from taking showers after the game. If players insist, club officials are encouraged to keep track of how many players are in the shower at any one time. To discourage a cluster, clubs are encouraged to, say, remove every other shower head or handle. If this seems a little extreme, they can assign a shower schedule.
Only one person allowed in a whirlpool at a time. Frankly, we thought this was a given.
Once on the field, players don’t have to wear masks, but they must try to remain at least six feet apart at all times. Players on the inactive roster sit in the stands, also six feet apart. In the dugout, players are discouraged from leaning on dugout railings or ledges unless they have a towel between them and said railings or ledges. Players are encouraged to remain as stationary as possible in dugouts, so as to maintain proper social distancing. Clubs are encouraged to post signs reminding them. I can see a sign now.
My mother would have loved one of those signs.
Some of this stuff you’ve probably already heard: No high-fives, no fist bumps, no hugs, no spitting, no smokeless tobacco, no sunflower seeds.
Chewing gum, however, is OK.
Players are encouraged to wash their hands after every half-inning. Hand sanitizer will be available in the dugout.
Pitchers warming up in the bullpen will work with their own personal baseballs. They must also bring their own rosin bags to the mound. Hitters will carry their own pine tar and donut to the on-deck circle. Once finished, they must pick up after themselves.
Mother would have loved this, too.
Baseballs from batting practice will be cycled out and not re-used for five days, and the people who pick them up must wear clean gloves when doing so.
After a ball has been put in play, it must be exchanged for a new ball. Players are “strongly discouraged” from throwing the ball around the infield after an out.
Players and coaches must make every effort not to touch their faces, even to give signals. Or wipe away sweat. Or “whistle with their fingers.”
Coaches may not leave their boxes to whisper in a baserunner’s ear. First base will look a lot lonelier this summer. Players may not socialize or fraternize with opponents before, during or after games.
This, from section 5.1.2: “Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.”
Billy Martin could not have survived this rule.
Earl Weaver, either.
There will be no pre-game handshakes or exchange of lineup cards at the plate. During the national anthem and God Bless America, players not only will stand, they’ll stand at least six feet apart.
Pitchers will not be allowed to lick their fingers at any time. They will, however, be allowed to carry a moist towelette in their back pocket. Umpires reserve the right to check said towelettes for foreign substances.
No bat boys or bat girls are allowed in the stadium. Mascots are OK, but you get the impression MLB isn’t crazy about it.
Now for the rules on the road.
Once on the plane, according to section 7.2, each member of the traveling party must wear a mask and wipe down all surfaces, “(i.e., both sides of tray tables, armrests, seat belt, headrest, TV screen and controller, luggage bin opener.)”
If a player must use the restroom, he should close the lid before flushing. If he’s next in line, he should wait “several minutes” before entering the lavatory.
Seemed like a given, too.
If there’s a meal service, he may not eat at the same time someone else in his row is eating.
He may not take subways or city buses or trains to the games. He must walk or drive or hire a private car. If he takes the team bus, he should open a window. He should also do the same in his hotel room “to the extent such windows are operable.”
Hotels will effectively be sanctuaries. Players can’t eat at restaurants used by the public at all. Only catered meals at the hotel. Or room service.
Teams are expected to come up with their own code of conduct for the road.
No player from the ’70s would have survived any code.
If all of the above isn’t enough to keep everyone safe, MLB reserves the right to put everyone in a “bubble,” it’s OK with the union.
For the record, there are also rules for media, who, on the ladder of relevance, come in at least a rung below mascots. No interaction with players, coaches or managers. No media in the clubhouse or on the field at any time whatsoever.
Players will love this.
Media will wear face masks at all times and should wash their hands frequently. Media workspace must be “cleaned and disinfected after every use.”
Come to think of it, this probably should have been a rule already.
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