Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday its health and safety protocols for the upcoming 2021 season after coming to an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association. According to the official press release, the two parties settled on an “enhanced set of health and safety protocols for the 2021 season that adopts current best practices in addition to those in place during the successful 2020 season and reflects the recommendations of the parties’ consulting medical experts and infectious disease specialists.”
The health and safety protocols include strict language regarding gatherings of 10 or more people as well as draconian restrictions on contact with people while on the road, which are subject to potential discipline, “including suspension or forfeiture of salary for days spent away from the Club while in mandatory self-isolation or quarantine resulting from the violation.” It also mandates that a player’s Kinexon contact tracing device be worn at all times while requiring every team to designate a contact tracing officer and a contact tracing working group, which includes “a medical professional with experience in infectious disease, responsible for identifying and reporting close contacts.”
There are also some alterations to the game itself that vary in significance, starting with axing the pregame lineup card exchange, which instead will be entered into a mobile application provided by MLB. Also, doubleheaders will be seven innings apiece and the “ghost runner” will be used again in extra innings. However, there will still be no designated hitter in the senior circuit.
Additionally, the active roster for the season will be 26 men deep, with an expansion to 28 in September. Each club will be allowed a five-man taxi squad on the road with the big league team, with at least one of them a player whose primary position prior to this season was catcher.
One especially encouraging item to note is that mental health services are being provided from spring training through the postseason, something that is much needed for many when playing through a pandemic.
Lastly, here is what the press release had to say about unsportsmanlike conduct and on-field altercations.
Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field. In this respect, players and managers should maintain physical distancing from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible. Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.
So there you have it, the outline of how MLB and the MLBPA agreed to move forward into the second season of baseball amidst the coronavirus. Hopefully, players and staff will adhere to the protocols diligently and we can have a successful summer of our nation’s pastime.