Major League Baseball sent a proposal to the players' union Friday that offered a detailed outline on how players, coaches and select staff would be tested for the novel coronavirus that is threatening the season, but also suggested radical changes to how players would interact if and when conditions are deemed safe enough to stage games.
Think of it this way: masked players who aren't allowed to spit or high-five sitting at least six feet away from each other in the dugout and even spilling into the stands, as necessary.
The 67-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is subject to approval by the Major League Baseball Players Association, and it is unlikely it would simply be rubber-stamped. Thus, any element could be tweaked or overhauled as negotiations continue next week. Plus, the proposal doesn't address what is expected to be a major sticking point in negotiations: what players would be paid should games be staged without fans, a plan that owners say would severely limit revenue.
Still, the document - dubbed the "2020 Operations Manual" - provides carefully detailed plans that consider nearly every interaction in the sport, from the use of baseballs that have been touched by more than one player, social distancing and mask-wearing in the dugout, eliminating common water containers and discouraging showering at club facilities.
"These measure are designed to minimize the risk of introduction of COVID-19 into Club facilities, and to protect Covered Individuals and their families, including high-risk individuals," the proposal said. "These measures must be coupled with efforts of these individuals to minimize their individual community risk."
Details of the proposal were first reported by the Athletic on Saturday.
Spring training, which could start in June, would begin with a thorough screening of all players, coaches and essential personnel, which the proposal describes as "Covered Individuals." Each club would be permitted just 50 players at spring training, and each of those players - as well as coaches and other personnel such as clubhouse attendants and training staff - would have their temperature checked; be given a viral test, either by a nasal swab or through saliva; and have blood drawn so it could be checked for antibodies.
No one who has a temperature above 100 degrees will be allowed into a facility either at spring training or during the regular season. Such people would be immediately isolated from asymptomatic players and personnel and be evaluated by doctors. Any player or support personnel who tests positive for coronavirus would be required to isolate and not move from their home other than to receive medical attention. The document also provides a plan for contact tracing should a player or other personnel test positive, as well as protocol for high-risk individuals.
Players and personnel who present as asymptomatic would continue to have their temperature checked twice daily and would have "regular" tests for the coronavirus, though the proposal doesn't specify the number of tests, other than to say they would occur "multiple times per week." Antibody testing would continue "about once a month." MLB has plans to use an anti-doping lab in Utah that has agreed to divert part of its facility to coronavirus testing, which the proposal says assures that baseball's testing will not impact the testing of the public in a specific community.
The proposal also offers testing for people who live with players and other staff, as well as for "healthcare workers or other first responders in the Clubs' home cities as a public service." It discourages players and other personnel from gathering in groups away from the ballpark and cautions about the impact of irresponsible behavior.
"The careless actions of a single member of the team places the entire team (and their families) at risk," it reads.
Spring training will be held in stages, beginning with small group workouts staggered throughout the day, some at teams' home ballparks if local laws permit it, others at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona. The second phase would allow for larger group workouts and intra-squad games, and spring training would conclude with a "limited number of exhibition games between clubs."
The outline for how the season would be conducted severely alters how a major leaguer would go about his day. Players are accustomed to eating together and lounging on couches in the clubhouse, and many adhere to pre- and postgame rituals that include various forms of physical therapy. But the proposal says specifically: "The use of all saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools, and cryotherapy chambers is prohibited for the 2020 season."
The document suggests that, if a club is unable to provide players with lockers that are at least six feet apart, it should provide a temporary clubhouse that could house some players and allow for social distancing. While players would not be required to wear masks when competing or taking batting practice, batting practice pitchers would wear masks - and the use of indoor batting cages, part of the daily routine for nearly all everyday players, would be discouraged. Pitchers would have a personal set of baseballs for use during bullpen sessions.
Once games begin, they would feel viscerally different - from no out-of-town scoreboards to social distancing for the national anthem to the prohibition of the exchange of lineup cards to base coaches being asked not to chat privately with base runners. A baseball game with no spitting? Yes, and that includes sunflower seeds, a staple for many modern ballplayers.
Players and coaches "must make every effort to avoid touching their face with their hands (including to give signs), wiping away sweat with their hands, licking their fingers, whistling with their fingers, etc." No bat boys or bat girls, and balls that are put in play and touched by multiple players - a groundout, a relay throw - would be removed and exchanged for a new baseball.
"After an out, players are strongly discouraged from throwing the ball around the infield," the document reads.
None of these alterations to play and preparation are guaranteed to happen should a season ultimately be deemed feasible. The league and the union are expected to negotiate any possible changes next week. Officials do not expect to discuss the economics of a shortened season - potentially played entirely without in-person fans - until the health and safety protocols are agreed upon.