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A few thoughts about MLB’s 60-game 2020 season

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It’s... complicated.

Photos by @WillByington / www.willbyington.com

Before I begin talking about a few of the points Major League Baseball made in announcing a 60-game 2020 season, I want to note that there is a real chance this shouldn’t happen at all.

Owners and players dithered and bickered to the point that 60 games in about 66 days is all they could squeeze in, and one of the given reasons was fear of the novel coronavirus and the pandemic that still continues across the USA. Here, let Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post say it better than I could:

But it was also clear that, despite all the effort expended, the vitriol spewed and the Armageddon barely staved off, the more treacherous and painstaking part is still to come — as baseball attempts to salvage a season amid a novel coronavirus pandemic that shows no sign of relenting in the United States and in fact is getting worse in some of the cities and states where baseball hopes to play.

So noted, so stated, so stipulated. There is a real possibility it ends before it even begins. I have to trust that those who run MLB will be cognizant of COVID-19 outbreaks and understand that they might have to shut down at any time. Because this:

Those spring training sites were shut down last week because some Phillies and Blue Jays players tested positive for COVID-19. I fully recognize this could happen again.

For now, though, here are some of the things that are going to happen per MLB’s plan:

  • Players will report to “Spring Training 2.0” by July 1 and games will begin on or around July 23 or 24.
  • The 60 games will be played within corresponding divisions (East/East, Central/Central, West/West), and be divided this way: 40 games vs. teams in your own league, or 10 vs. each team, and 20 games vs. each team in the other league. That would divide neatly into four per team, though there has been some talk that the “rivalry” matchups (i.e., Cubs vs. White Sox) would be six games each. A full schedule is expected later this week.
  • The designated hitter will be used in all games. Even those of you opposed to the DH should note that this, at least for 2020, would help protect against pitcher injuries.
  • There will be 30-man rosters for the first two weeks, 28 for the following two weeks, and 26 for the remainder of the season. Teams will have 60 players eligible — the 40-man roster plus 20 “taxi squad” players. Teams can bring three “taxi squad” players to away games, but one of those must be a catcher.
  • The three-batter minimum for relievers, which was supposed to take effect this year anyway, will be in effect.
  • There will be a trade deadline. It will be August 31, and players must be on a roster by September 15 for postseason eligibility. I suspect, given the situation of not really having any minor leaguers playing anywhere and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 in some areas, trading this year will be close to zero.
  • Here’s a good one I’ve been advocating for, for some time: If a game gets cut short due to weather before it becomes official (fewer than five innings), it will be continued at a later date rather than started from scratch. I’d like to see MLB keep this rule permanently.
  • Here’s something I have NOT advocated for: Due to the tight time schedule, extra-inning games will use the minor-league rule, starting innings with a runner on second base. That runner will be the player who made the last out in the previous inning. Get ready for a lot of sacrifice bunts, intentional walks and sacrifice flies. MLB says this will ONLY be in effect for 2020 and ONLY for regular-season games. Let’s hope so.

MLB also completed a health and safety protocol with players. Here are some of the key points:

• Players, coaches and support staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day during Spring Training, the regular season and postseason.

• Players will receive temperature/symptom checks twice per day.

• Antibody testing will be conducted once per month.

• Social distancing will be encouraged as much as possible both on the field and off. Players and other team personnel not participating in the game will be sitting in the stands, at least six feet apart.

• Non-playing personnel must wear masks in the dugout and bullpen at all times.

• No pregame exchange of lineup cards.

• No celebratory contact (high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, etc.).

• No spitting or chewing of tobacco and/or sunflower seeds. Chewing gum is allowed.

• A ball will be thrown out once it has been touched by multiple players.

• Fights are strictly prohibited.

Will this be enough to play baseball safely? The honest truth is: We don’t know. Outbreaks of COVID-19 could be serious enough in some parts of the USA to create new lockdowns. MLB says they can and will relocate teams to neutral sites in that case.

A couple of other health-related notes:

I’m going to say this again just so it’s clear: Yes, I would like to see some baseball this year. I have missed it terribly, and it is something that can help bring this country back to some semblance of “normalcy,” however you might define that. Given that, I absolutely understand the seriousness of the pandemic, that it could get worse before it gets better, and if baseball has to shut down because of it, whenever that might happen, I accept that. Until then, I’m going to continue to report about it here as if baseball will be played.

But if it is indeed shut down for 2020 due to the pandemic, it would be good for players and owners to sit down and talk, really talk, about the differences that divide them so that a solid collective-bargaining agreement that would benefit everyone could be in place before the current CBA expires December 1, 2021. That way we can have a solid MLB structure for years to come.

For now, let’s play ball, as long as it is safe.


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Poll

Regarding a 2020 MLB season...

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    MLB should proceed with its plan as laid out Monday
    (94 votes)
  • 47%
    MLB should proceed cautiously and make adjustments if necessary due to the pandemic
    (240 votes)
  • 33%
    MLB should shut down now and resume in 2021
    (172 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (2 votes)
508 votes total Vote Now