Baseball is set to launch a season like no other, with restrictions, rule changes and revisions to routine that will make the game look different in myriad ways. Here are 60:
1. Rather than the usual marathon of 162 games, it’s a sprint of 60, the max number owners felt comfortable paying full prorated salaries for and that fit into the calendar they didn’t want to adjust.
2. As a result, it’s the shortest season since 1878, which pre-dates the Rays’ search for a new stadium.
3. To limit travel, teams are playing only in their usual division (40 games), and the corresponding geographical division in the other league (20). So for the Rays, 10 each vs. the Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees; six vs. the “natural rival” Marlins; four vs. the Braves and champion Nationals; three vs. the Mets and Phillies.
4. Which is a little tougher than the NL Central slate they were supposed to play, facing the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Reds.
5. Also, no trips to AL favorite stops such as Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota and, for the BBQ lovers, Kansas City, among others. (Hmm ... joeskc.com)
6. That they will play the whole season is no sure thing. Positive tests are going to happen, and the league has not announced how many it will take overall or, more importantly, per team to halt play. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said “competitive integrity” will be his guidepost.
7. Some of the game’s bigger names won’t be on the field, as Dodgers lefty David Price (the ex-Ray), Giants catcher Buster Posey and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman have opted out of playing due to the health risk. The biggest, Angels centerfielder Mike Trout, was still deciding with less than two weeks to go.
8. Games will be played without fans at least to start the season, though teams, including the Rays, have plans to potentially allow in a limited number pending the status of virus cases in their market.
9. In the interim, the Rays are among the teams that, for a fee, are considering putting cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats to make the stadium look less empty.
10. And to make it sound less empty, MLB has arranged for teams to play audio tracks of generic background crowd noise.
11. Which is too bad, because hearing more of the chatter coming out of the dugouts could have been very entertaining, and in some select cases perhaps educational regarding anatomy and physics.
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12. Also, we’d learn what they really talk about during mound visits and at first base.
13. Other sounds of the game will be different, though teams can still play walk-up music, announce hitters and use the scoreboard and video screens. Plans are for more of an emphasis on music and player highlights to provide some energy.
14. So will the broadcasts, especially road games, as neither the Rays radio nor TV crew will be traveling. Instead they’ll be making the calls off monitors, likely from their booths at Tropicana Field. Was really hoping to see Dewayne Staats’ couch.
15. All media coverage will be different, and much of it communal, as teams are conducting almost all interviews via group Zoom video calls. There is no media access to the clubhouse or field, and no in-person interviews.
16. Rather than have a full minor-league system to draw from, teams had to pick 60 players to be in the pool from which their active roster is selected, though additions can be made in some circumstances, including replacing players with coronavirus issues.
17. Some teams used a couple spots for elite-level prospects so they could get work and continue development since there’s no minor-league season, even though it’s very unlikely they’d get to the majors this year. But Wander Franco and Shane Baz are on the 60-man roster, so you can say there’s a chance.
18. Active rosters will be 30 to open the season, allowing teams additional depth, then after two weeks cut to 28 and after two more weeks to 26.
19. With no minor-league teams to be assigned to, inactive healthy players in the pool will work out at the team’s alternate training site, which for the Rays is their Port Charlotte spring facility, and “called up” and “sent down” from there.
20. There’s no maximum number of pitchers on the active roster, allowing teams to stock up on arms. Rays manager Kevin Cash said he finds that “pretty exciting,” so it wouldn’t be shocking if they had 16 or possibly 17 pitchers among their opening 30.
21. Doing so makes sense, since one of the greatest unknowns going into the season is how many innings starting pitchers will be able to cover early on with only a three-week training period instead of six. Also, whether relievers will be deemed ready to work back-to-back days.
22. Another is whether the hitters will be able to keep up given they usually have 50-60 at-bats in exhibition games to get their timing down, but some will get only at-bats vs. their own pitchers.
23. Depth is going to be a major advantage, as teams will be dealing with fluid rosters, as players may be more prone to injuries such as muscle pulls given the shorter prep time, and will be sidelined for COVID-19-related causes.
24. So will versatility, which amplifies the depth. Players like Mike Brosseau and Brandon Lowe, who can play almost anywhere on the field, are great assets for the Rays.
25. And flexibility in their thinking. That could be a huge benefit for the Rays, who are well accustomed to doing things differently and may be more able to adapt to the new rules and evolving regulations and restrictions.
26. Standard injured list stays are 10 days, but there is a separate category for coronavirus-related issues — positive test, symptoms, confirmed exposure to someone infected — with no set maximum or minimum. Players on the COVID-19 list don’t count against the 60-player limit at that time.
27. Knowing who is missing, and why, will be a mess, as teams — as of now anyway — aren’t saying if a player tested positive unless he gives permission.
28. As a result, they also may not disclose why other players are out, which will lead to considerable media and public speculation — much of it unfair — about virus issues.
29. That creates a mess for everyone, at a time when transparency is needed. (The Giants put a player on the injured list for “medical purposes.”)
30. Players are tested every other day, so there is no cutoff point. The roster shuffling and speculating will continue all season.
31. The manager’s cliched key to the season being “staying healthy” has a whole different meaning.
32. The designated hitter rule will be used in the National League as well as the American League, so pitchers won’t hit except in unusual circumstances.
33. To prevent extended games, all extra innings will start with a runner on second. (Stat note: If he scores, it’s not an earned run against the pitcher.)
34. Pitchers will be required to face at least three batters, which was a planned rule change for 2020 anyway.
35. Trades can still be made, with the usual July 31 deadline pushed to Aug. 31. There are waiver claims, too. (Now it’s just up to the player to deal with the challenges of packing up and moving during a pandemic.)
36. An inducement in the negotiations was expanding the playoffs field from 10 teams to as many as 16, but that plan went away when there was no agreement.
37. Though ads on player uniforms were in the deal that was not approved, teams can place additional sponsor signage on dugout walls, on tarps over the empty seats and in foul territory along the first- and third-base lines.
38. Also, on the back side of the mound, conveniently in the centerfield camera shot.
39. Among a slew of precautionary regulations, players and coaches are prohibited from spitting. (Early odds: This will be the most broken rule.)
40. They also can’t use sunflower seeds or tobacco, but can chew gum — just not spit it out.
41. Also, pitchers can’t lick their fingers but can carry a wet rag in their back pocket. Wet — wink, wink — only with water.
42. Among a slew of physical distancing regulations: players and coaches can’t argue with the umps.
43. Nor fraternize. And definitely not fight with each other nor, for that matter, among themselves.
44. Social distancing will be a major topic, including making players stand 6 feet apart during playing of the national anthem.
45. And they won’t get to sit together in the dugout or bullpen so there can be more distancing, as players less likely to participate will be asked to plop down nearby in the stands.
46. Though there will be a socially-distanced meeting at home plate before the game, lineup cards won’t be exchanged, instead entered into an MLB app. Also among adjudicators, official scorers will be working remotely rather than from the press box.
47. Don’t expect to see any handshakes, high-fives or hugs among players and coaches, as all are on the prohibited list. And those are just the H’s.
48. And forget watching all those wild celebrations after walkoff wins where the player who gets the big hit is mobbed, hugged and otherwise harassed by teammates.
49. Also, seeing Fox Sports Sun TV reporter Tricia Whitaker dodge the spray from the sports-drink dousing during the post-game interview, since she won’t be on the field.
50. Others you won’t see on the field include the bat and ball boys and girls, as their duties will be handed off to players and staff. Sounds like easy rookie hazing.
51. One familiar furry face you may see is Raymond, as mascots are allowed on be in the (empty) stands.
52. Masks are going to be worn by pretty much everyone but the players on the field. (Yes, except for the catchers.)
53. And some of those, like the Rays’ Ji-Man Choi, may end up wearing them, after experimenting in workouts.
54. Also look for some creativity as masks become the latest fashion statement, with Willy Adames sporting a custom version in Rays colors with his No. 1. Maybe these become highly individualized like hockey goalie masks?
55. More practical than stylish, reliever Pete Fairbanks has a sippyMASK, which has a flap that opens for drinking or eating.
56. Some rules may be adjusted or relaxed as the season goes. Luckily for the good of the entire traveling party, one already was from the original health and safety proposal: Players are allowed to shower at the stadium after games.
57. Travel used to be a perk of the job, especially in the first-class style in which teams roll. Now it will be one of the biggest hazards, given the potential for increased coronavirus exposure from being on buses, planes, trains and automobiles. Masks will be worn and there are myriad rules regarding seating, boarding, eating, even going to the bathroom. (Spoiler alert: Wait a few minutes before being next in.)
58. And also from staying in hotels, thought they will be doing plenty of that as Major League Baseball’s 100-page plus manual makes clear teams are not supposed to leave the hotel for any “non-essential purposes” and definitely not to eat out. That Aug. 17 day off in New York is not going to be as fun as it sounds.
59. To limit exposing players to the risks of commercial travel if a call-up is necessary, teams will bring three extra players — one a catcher — on road trips as part of an official taxi squad. Also eliminated will be pitchers flying on to the next city ahead of the team to get in earlier. More common will be teams leaving pitchers home on short trips.
60. A lot more baseballs will be used. (Stock tip: Rawlings) Any ball touched by multiple players has to be tossed out (thus, no throwing it around the infield after an out), batting practice balls are supposed to be picked up and stored for five days before being reused, and each pitcher has his own bag of balls to use for bullpen sessions.