If only Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association had tackled their financial negotiations with the same level-headedness and diligence that they exhibited in constructing their Operations Manual, the game would be in far better shape.
That, as you know, didn’t happen, and MLB will open spring training next week while still on the self-injured list. It will do so, though, with a strong plan to manage the massive coronavirus threat from all angles and complete this most unorthodox campaign.
The plan probably won’t work; COVID-19 presents such a massive obstacle and human beings are fallible, The Post has learned. Yet it’ll be intellectually stimulating to see them try. Here are 14 codicils to normal baseball life that intrigue the most:
1. The extra-innings rule
Yup, a runner on second to start each half-inning in the 10th frame and beyond. The runner is the batter who registered the last full at-bat in the previous inning (or his defensive replacement). For scoring geeks: That runner will be considered to have reached on an error. Yet the defensive team will not be charged with an error. This won’t be used in the playoffs.
2. Suspended games
Maybe you’ve attended a contest that went, say, three innings, then got wiped out thanks to a downpour and had to start from scratch down the road. Now there’ll be a pivot to the process that already has been in place for the postseason: If a game gets halted by weather before it becomes official (by completing five innings), it will be suspended and resume at the point of the delay.
3. Roster numbers
Teams can carry 30 players on Opening Day, then pare it down to 28 on the 15th day of the season and finally 26 on the 29th day. No expanded rosters in September.
4. Taxi squads
To limit players’ individual travel, teams can carry a three-player taxi squad with them, including one catcher, whenever they go on the road. Upon the return home, those players will rejoin their fellow taxi squad members — those who are part of the designated 60-member “Club Player Pool” who aren’t on the major-league roster — at the teams’ alternate sites (most likely Brooklyn for the Mets and Scranton for the Yankees).
5. Injured lists
A COVID injured list will exist for players who so much as exhibit symptoms of the disease; they need not test positive. This list will not have a set length. In more conventional alterations, the 60-day IL is now only 45 days; otherwise, a player starting on the 60-day list would have only about a week of activity. Pitchers’ period of inactivity had been set to switch from 10 days to 15 this year. Now it’s back to 10.
6. Postseason eligibility
Players typically must join an organization by Aug. 31 in order to be eligible for playoff action. Now that’s Sept. 15; Aug. 31 is the new trade deadline.
7. Serious social distancing
If a player or manager leaves his position to come within six feet of an umpire or opposing manager or player for the purpose of arguing, he subjects himself to immediate ejection as well as a fine or suspension.
8. The wet rag
Since they can’t lick their fingers to better grip the ball, pitchers can carry a “small wet rag” in their back pocket. Only water is allowed on the rag, and umpires can check the rag for non-water-like substances at any point.
9. A win for the gum lobby
The prohibition of spitting at ballparks includes (but is not limited to) saliva, sunflower seeds, peanut shells and tobacco) Chewing gum, however, is permitted.
10. Consider not leaning on me
Don’t you love watching players and managers lean on the dugout railing during a big moment? That is now discouraged, although permissible. The key will be to use a clean towel as a barrier, which seems like a pretty good idea whether we’re battling a pandemic or not.
11. No loitering
Players can arrive at the ballpark no earlier than five hours before first pitch and must depart within 90 minutes of the last out.
12. Starting small
Spring training will roll out in three phases, each phase allowing personnel to convene in larger groups. During Phase One, groups will feature five members or fewer.
13. Concessions to normalcy
MLB did bend on a few of its original notions, released on May 15. The scoreboard can display out-of-town scores and limited replay after all, and team members can use hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for pre- and post-game treatment. Teams are urged to acquire additional units to limit interaction and minimize wait time.
14. Limited coverage
A maximum of 35 media members will be permitted at all regular-season games. The members will be restricted to the press box, will conduct all interviews by Zoom or phone and must leave the premises an hour after the final interview is completed. We’ll be writing quickly.
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