Just in case anybody doubts the Herculean challenge of trying to put on a 2020 Major League Baseball season, consider this: It took 67 pages for the commissioner’s office to cover all of the health and safety protocols that its medical advisers believe are essential for at least minimizing the risk of COVID-19 to players, coaches, and other essential personnel.
And that's just a first pass of a "2020 Operations Manual" that almost surely will grow in size once the players review it.
In a document presented to the Players Association on Friday and obtained by several media outlets Saturday, MLB outlined just about everything — from the operation of spring-training camps, to in-game changes at fan-free ballparks, and travel ordinances. A few areas that were addressed, according to various reports:
— Each team would bring 50 players to spring training at home ballparks or Florida/Arizona facilities, ideally by mid-June. Players would initially be subdivided into groups of five or fewer and workout times would be staggered before eventually coming together for intrasquad scrimmages and then exhibition games.
— Coaches and support staff must wear masks in the dugout, and the tradition of exchanging lineup cards at home plate would be scrapped in favor of electronic submissions.
— Spitting and certain training methods (saunas, hot tubs, etc.) would be prohibited. Various communal baseball activities, including the use of an indoor batting cage, would be discouraged. Pitchers would no longer share rosin bags; hitters would use their own pine-tar rags.
— Baseballs that are put in play and handled by multiple players (think of most groundouts) would be exchanged for a new ball.
— Teams would use smaller, private airports, if possible, and the same crew for every flight. On the road, the only acceptable mode of transportation to the ballpark would be team buses (no Ubers or taxis).
— As commissioner Rob Manfred outlined Thursday night in a CNN town hall, players would receive twice daily temperature checks, multiple COVID-19 tests per week through a lab in Utah that administers MLB’s performance-enhancing drug tests, and antibody testing roughly once a month. Teams also must identify staff members who are considered to be at higher risk for COVID-19 based on age or underlying medical conditions.
— Batboys/girls and ballboys/girls won't be allowed at games. Neither will mascots (sorry, Phillie Phanatic).
Oh, and there’s much, much more.
At the very least, the measures would alter the daily regimens of players who, as much as athletes in any other sport, are slaves to routines. Set in their ways day after day, month after month, and year after year, players suddenly would have to adapt and change nearly all of their patterns.
But routines can be broken. Mostly, MLB’s exhaustive guidelines highlight the immense undertaking of having two teams — more than 100 people between them — reconvene even in outdoor settings and without fans present at a time when the coronavirus death toll continues to rise in many places in the United States.
It reinforces, too, that although everyone involved in the game — owners, players, executives, managers, coaches, scouts, umpires, and on and on — wants to get out of the house and see some semblance of a season, the virus isn’t going to make it easy.
So, where does baseball go from here?
The Players Association is expected to respond to MLB's health-and-safety proposal next week, with negotiations likely to ensue. The union, like the league, is believed to be consulting with medical experts.
Union leadership also figures to get input from rank-and-file players. Several players, notably Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle in a thoughtful Twitter thread last week, have expressed concern about going back to the work unless they’re satisfied with the league’s plan to address health and safety issues.
Beyond that, there's the issue of player compensation, with the owners and players at odds over a potential revenue-sharing plan. But it appears that neither side sees the sense in waging that fight until health and safety measures are put in place.
To meet the goal of a mid-June spring training and early July opening day, the league and union likely would need to agree on everything by Memorial Day. They also would require federal, state, and local approval to go forward with playing in all 30 of MLB’s markets. Contingency plans, including playing at spring-training facilities, would need to be made for cities that won’t reopen for baseball.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, 67 pages of health regulations offered a stark reminder of why a season will be so difficult to pull off.