Baseball’s New Rules: No Spitting, No Arguing, and Lots of Testing

Coronavirus testing every other day for players and coaches. Wet rags for pitchers’ pockets to prevent them from licking their fingers. Masks in the dugout and bullpen for any non-players. And no public transportation to the stadium, communal food spreads, saunas, fighting, spitting, smokeless tobacco or sunflower seeds.

Got all that?

These are among the many new rules that Major League Baseball teams will have to follow for the shortened 2020 season. This week, after months of haggling over pay and how many games to play, M.L.B. and the players’ union finalized their season plan, including an 113-page operations manual that will govern this unprecedented 60-game season without fans in the stands.

“There’s a lot of stuff to get used to,” Mets pitcher Seth Lugo said.

Unlike some other pro leagues that will play in a single, sequestered environment, M.L.B. will play games at teams’ home stadiums, with the regular season beginning either July 23 or 24 after a second round of spring training starting July 1.

Even before any players have officially reported to their camps, several teams — including the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies and Yankees — have reportedly had positive coronavirus tests among their players and staff members.

“This is a challenging time, but we will meet the challenge by continuing to work together,” read part of the introduction to the M.L.B. manual, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “Adherence to the health and safety protocols described in this manual will increase our likelihood of being successful.”

Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, commended baseball’s health and safety plan, calling it “fairly detailed” in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“A player’s risk, based on what they’re planning, is probably greater for acquiring this infection in the community than while engaged in baseball-related activities,” Saag said.

A four-person committee, which includes doctors appointed by the league and the players’ union, will oversee the implementation of the plan. Each team must designate an individual to serve as a coronavirus point person who ensures compliance with the rules.

To facilitate testing, the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, which normally helps run the league’s antidoping testing, has converted a portion of its facility in Salt Lake City for virus tests, promising a 24-hour turnaround on results.

The manual designates the different tiers of people: Tier 1 consists of players and on-field personnel, like coaches and umpires; Tier 2 is other essential personnel, like members of the front office or strength and conditioning staff; Tier 3 is other necessary workers, like cleaning crews, who do not come in contact with players and coaches.

Before spring training begins, players and key staff must be screened for any symptoms and potential exposure to the virus, as well as a separate examination that includes a saliva or oral/nasal swab test and a blood sample for an antibody test.

During spring training and the season, players and select staff will have their temperatures and symptoms checked twice per day at club facilities. They will also be given oral digital thermometers for self screening each morning. Those with temperatures at or above 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to enter a team facility.

Players and on-field personnel will be tested for the virus every other day, while other key staff will be tested “multiple times per week.” Antibody testing will happen about once a month.

If anyone tests positive for the virus, they will receive medical attention and be required to self-isolate. Contact tracing will be conducted and the team facility will be disinfected.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • What’s the best material for a mask?

      Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Teams’ medical staffs must identify players and key staff members who are at higher risk of contracting the virus — because of age or medical history, for example — or who live with someone who is at a higher risk. Those individuals could receive special treatment, including separate travel arrangements.

If a higher-risk player still wants to opt out of playing this season after consulting with the team doctor, he would be placed on the “Covid-19 Related Injured List” and would still receive service time and pay. The Covid-19 list will have no time limits and will also be open to players who test positive for the virus, were exposed to a confirmed case or exhibit symptoms.

The manual includes 11 pages of diagrams to ensure social distancing during on-field drills and in dugouts, batting cages and bullpens. Among the other measures in the manual:

  • Players should keep at least six feet away from one another in the clubhouse, and additional clubhouse space should be provided if needed

  • Players are “discouraged but not prohibited” from showering in the clubhouse

  • Inactive players are asked to sit six feet apart in the stands

  • Clubhouse food must be served in individual to-go containers

  • Players (or managers) who leave their positions to argue with umpires or come within six feet of them or an opposing player or manager face ejection and discipline

  • Any ball in play or touched by multiple players will be replaced

  • The traveling party will have a private check-in and entrance at hotels to avoid interactions with the public

  • Members of the traveling team are “not permitted to leave the hotel to eat or otherwise use any restaurants (in the hotel or otherwise) open to the public.” They must be provided with a private dining room at the hotel, and they can use room service or food delivery services.

  • Hotel room visits are permitted for only other members of a traveling party or immediate family.

Given the stakes, some players have said they must police themselves away from the field to prevent the type of virus outbreaks that have occurred in women’s professional soccer or college football because of visits to bars or nightclubs.

Despite the rules for when clubs travel, the manual said that “M.L.B. will not formally restrict” the activities of players and key staff members away from team facilities.

Individuals were asked to exercise caution and teams were asked to come up with their own off-the-field code of conduct guides. A strong warning was included: “The careless actions of a single individual places the entire team (and their families) at risk.”

Dr. Saag added some advice for players: “They would be wise to imagine themselves as a 75-year-old retiree living somewhere in Florida. And those retirees who are concerned about their health are staying mostly at home.”

Lugo said on Wednesday afternoon that he had only read a three-page summary of the M.L.B. manual that had been provided by his agents. But given the complexities of the protocols and the virus, Lugo, who lives in Louisiana, said he expected to learn more when he arrived in New York this week. According to the manual, players and employees will undergo mandatory training about the virus throughout the year.

“A lot of it is pretty much common sense,” Lugo said of the rules. “Just don’t touch anybody.”

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