The MLB playoffs are upon us, and for most baseball fans, it will mean determining the champion of a season that breezed by. Sure, passionate fans are still indelibly supportive of their team and wanted to see baseball return this year, but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about a 60-game season that lasted just over two months.
However, it is somewhat of a miracle that there was any season at all, considering how the coronavirus exposed the feudalistic relationship owners have over the players as well as the swarm of positive tests that threatened to shut the league down within the first week. Let’s take a look at how the MLB addressed the circumstances at hand and was able to bring us some semblance of normalcy in the sports world:
New safety measures
The MLB introduced a series of new rules and regulations in response to COVID-19. Here is a summation of the most notable safety measures:
- No fans in the ballpark (cardboard cutouts are encouraged)
- Symptom and exposure questionnaire before spring training
- Universal testing for COVID-19 and antibodies for players and coaches
- Daily temperature checks (100.4 degrees or higher will be sent home.)
- Provided testing for health care workers and other first responders in each team’s city
- Individuals who test positive during the season will be quarantined
- Players who test positive must be quarantined until they test negative twice, 24 hours apart, exhibit no symptoms for 72 hours and receive approval from team doctors
- High-risk players can opt-out at any time and receive full salary and benefits
- No bat or ball girls
- Equipment isn’t shared and cannot be touched by any other player than who it belongs to
- Spitting and chewing tobacco is prohibited
- Severe punishments for fighting or instigating a brawl.
- Non-playing personnel (coaches and trainers) must wear masks in the dugout.
- Baseballs are disinfected after batting practice and games and are out of circulation for at least five days.
- Social distancing between players of opposing teams is strictly enforced
Baseball has the advantage of being an inherently non-contact sport, and the natural positioning of players on the field has them dispersed further away than the recommended 6 feet most of the time. Traditional baseball attire also allows for masks to be worn by players without altering their uniforms too much.
That being said, players on the same team are in close quarters for many hours of the day. If one player contracts COVID-19, it would effortlessly ravage much of the team within a short time frame. There is also no feasible way to pull off a bubble scenario due to the size of the league, timing of games and the spatial concerns that would follow. It should also be noted that the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal loomed over this season, and since MLB’s weak sanctions failed to redress the grievances of the teams and players who wanted a fitting punishment, these matters were sure to be settled on the field. And they did. Just ask Joe Kelly, who was suspended for throwing at Astros hitters in August.
The league’s player association and owners finally came to an agreement on how players should be compensated for the shortened season when the possibility of a compromise looked bleak for months leading up to July. MLB also imposed the successful relocation of the Toronto Blue Jays from Rogers Centre in Canada to Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, which is home to its triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. This was to circumvent the obvious complications of teams having to cross the border in order to play Toronto during the pandemic.
The playoffs are expanded this season, which will spark more interest and engage many fanbases that have felt disillusioned by their team’s lack of postseason opportunity. There will be weaker teams included in the field this year, but there’s no perfect way to determine the most worthy teams during such a short season. The decision to expand the playoffs is easily Rob Manfred’s most meritorious course of action since becoming commissioner in 2014.
Despite all of the restrictions to on-the-field conduct, the MLB exerted zero care toward monitoring the players’ off-field conduct, which resulted in several players acting foolishly, causing the shutdowns of several teams and postponing their games, during the early part of the season. Teams became stricter in enforcing rules that governed their players’ behavior, but the MLB should have seen that coming and established guidelines before the season started.
In order to limit long game times, a problem the league has feared is ruining the sport. The MLB introduced a hideous extra inning rule that should be discontinued immediately following the season. A runner is placed on second base automatically at the start of the inning, giving the batting team a significant advantage in scoring at least one run to take the lead. Sure, there is equity in this rule since both teams receive this opportunity, but this painfully artificial rule is way more damaging to the fabric of the game than the proposed implementation of a pitch clock ever was. This is also a good time to complain indignantly about how trash human umpires are and to espouse my support of robot umpires because when isn’t it a good time for that?
Overall grade: C