By Sports Editor Brian Hoffman
Today is day 113 AG, or 113 days “After Gobert” tested positive for Covid-19 and all sports came to a halt. But the good news is, it looks like we’re going to have big league baseball this summer after all. At least that’s the plan as I write this column three and a half months after the Jazz walked off the court.
“Spring” training is supposed to start this week, followed by a 60 game schedule beginning July 23 or 24. It sounds like it will be a lot like the Korean games, with no fans and lots of rules to keep people safe. I should be plenty safe watching from the recliner in my basement.
Major League Baseball has put out a 101 page “operations manual” for the 2020 season. It includes playing rules, health protocols, travel, media regulations and anything to do with playing the games, and I’m sure lots of stuff will come up that wasn’t anticipated once the season begins.
A couple different rules of note include an expanded 30 man roster. That will go down to 28 after two weeks and 26 after four weeks, but there will also be a “taxi squad” where other players will be available. Remember, there’s no minor league baseball so teams might want to give some of their better prospects an opportunity to see the field.
The “Designated Hitter” rule is always a point of contention and both leagues will use the DH for the abbreviated season. However, it won’t be used in the National League in 2021 if things are back to normal as next year is the final year of the collective bargaining agreement. Then, after next season, it will be on the table to make it universal starting with the 2022 season. Of course, that’s if the players don’t strike over the next agreement, which is always a possibility with baseball.
Another rule of interest is the one used in girls’ softball, where you put a runner on second to start any inning after regulation. In baseball that would be the 10th inning, and the idea is to make for more scoring opportunities to keep games from running long.
Being a traditionalist, I don’t know that I care for that rule. However, as a baseball fan if that’s what they feel they need to get the game back on TV then I’m okay with it.
There are lots of rules in the operations manual about safety measures, and some of them are going to be hard to enforce. People aren’t going to break the rules on purpose, but life-long habits are hard to break.
Players won’t be allowed to spit, and baseball players like to spit. They won’t be chewing tobacco or spitting sunflower seeds, and those are habits that will be hard to break for some.
Pitchers cannot lick their fingers to get a better grip on the ball. From personal experience I have a habit of licking the tips of my fingers when I count paper money. Probably not a good thing, but you know how it is when bills stick together.
Well, I’ve been wearing a mask to the grocery store and when I get to the checkout and pull out my bills I instinctively go to lick the tips of my fingers. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until my fingers hit the mask, usually drawing a chuckle from the cashier.
Pitchers are allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket, but they must dry their hands before pitching so what good does that do? Only water is permitted on the rag and the umpire is allowed to check the rag at any time, but must put on gloves to do so.
See where this is going? There are a lot of rules that seem to be ridiculous among first inspection, but are deemed important to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Players not in the game are allowed to sit in the empty stands to allow for “social distancing,” and leaning on the dugout railing is discouraged. There is not a rule against it, but if you do lean on the rail you have to put a towel on the rail before leaning.
My question is, what is the penalty for failing to abide by these rules? Will someone get thrown out of the game for licking their fingers or leaning on the rail without a towel?
Of course charging the mound or fighting is strictly prohibited due to “social distancing.” Then again, fighting has always been prohibited but players do it anyway.
What happens the first time a pitcher comes high and tight to an Astros’ batter, sending a message they didn’t appreciate last year’s trash-can-banging cheating scandal? Will the umpire warn the pitcher or throw him out on the spot, knowing the batter has little recourse other than to duck. And, as the old saying goes, weren’t rules made to be broken anyway.
It’s going to be interesting, if it happens at all. As I’m typing numbers continue to rise and people are getting stressed out. I look at everything as being day-to-day anymore.
Or, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver succinctly noted months ago, “we’re in unchartered territory.”