Managers and coaches would wear masks in the dugout, players would wear masks in the clubhouse, and familiar baseball behavior like high-fives, fist bumps, hugging and spitting would be prohibited under MLB's plan to open the 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Team mascots and bat boys and bat girls would be banned from the field, and many other protocols are designed to safeguard players and other personnel from the possible spread of the disease.
The plan even suggests players wear their uniforms to the ballpark and not take showers to reduce their time in the clubhouse.
The traditional exchange of lineup cards would be eliminated, and players would not be allowed to socialize with opponents before and during games, according to a 67-page draft of Major League Baseball’s proposed 2020 Operations Manual. A copy was sent to teams Friday and obtained by The Associated Press.
Diagrams in the manual suggest how to spread out players and personnel in the dugout and in the empty stands, as well as in the bullpen and on the field during warmups and drills.
Because there wouldn’t be fans, at least at the start, MLB would provide background audio for telecasts, since TV viewership would be crucial for revenue. Scoreboard video would be prohibited, but music would be allowed.
Teams would be allowed to have 50 players each under the plan, with the number active for each game still to be negotiated. The players union would have to agree to the changes.
Teams were asked to respond with their suggested input by May 22. The protocols were written by MLB senior vice presidents Patrick Houlihan, Bryan Seeley and Chris Young, and vice president Jon Coyles. Young is a former pitcher who retired after the 2017 season.
Other protocols include:
Players would not be allowed to lick their fingers and coaches would not be allowed to touch their face to give signs.
Throwing the ball around the infield would be discouraged and a ball would be thrown away after it is touched by multiple players. Personnel who rub baseballs with mud for the umpires must use gloves.
Fielders are “encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner” between pitches. First and third base coaches are not to approach baserunners or umpires.
Hitting in indoor cages would be discouraged, batting gloves encouraged.
Batting practice pitchers would wear masks, and dugout telephones would be disinfected after each use.
Teams are encouraged to hold meetings outdoors with players spread apart.
Only players and some team staff would be allowed in clubhouses, dugouts and the field.
Everyone must keep their distance during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
The entire traveling party -- including players -- must wear personal protective equipment while on buses and flights. Restaurants are off limits on the road, including the ones in hotels, as are hotel fitness centers.
“We emphasize that this is a first draft, and will undergo several rounds of changes as we collect comments and suggestions from the clubs, the players’ association, players, and government officials,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in an email to owners, team presidents and CEOs, and general managers that accompanied the protocols.
“The document is designed to set minimum standards and identify best practices, but we have attempted to provide clubs with enough flexibility to achieve the desired health and safety objectives in a manner that is tailored to their particular circumstances, including ballpark configuration, location, and the nature of any local governmental regulations or restrictions,” Halem wrote.
Protocols include details on testing for team staff, who are divided into three tiers.
Tier 1 people in the plan include players, managers and coaches plus two each from among physicians, athletics trainers and bullpen catchers plus one strength and conditioning coach.
Tier 2 includes clubhouse staff, additional coaches, medical and training staff, traveling staff, owners, front office, translators, communications staff, video personnel, the head groundskeeper and security plus players’ union and MLB staff along with contractors.
Tier 3 covers broadcast personnel and other event services.
Players must wear masks while in restricted areas “except while on the field or engaging in other strenuous activities” and lockers must have at least 6 feet between them. If needed, temporary clubhouse space will be added, preferably outdoors or areas with better ventilation.
“Showering in club facilities should be discouraged,” the plan says. “To the extent showering occurs, clubs should explore modifications to facilities to allow for physical distancing and hygiene” such as installing partitions and limiting the number of players using the showers at the same time.
Teams “should consider requiring (on-field staff) to arrive at club facilities dressed for the day’s activities in order to limit time spent in the clubhouse or locker room.”
Only medical personnel would be allowed near injured players.
There would be staggered reporting dates for the resumption of spring training. When pitchers and catchers arrive, only five players may work out at a time. Then come full team workouts, with small groups encouraged but not required, followed by exhibition games. There would be intake screening upon arrival followed by a self-quarantine for 24-48 hours until results are available. Players not assigned to a big league team when the season starts would remain at spring training or another separate facility.
All games at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona, whether exhibition or regular season, must be scheduled for 7-9 p.m. local time unless MLB gives specific consent.
A fifth umpire would be allowed when the temperature reaches a certain level, allowing for rotation, including sharing of plate umpire duties. Teams should take batting practice on back fields.
Among the road trip changes:
- Use of Uber, subways and public buses is banned.
- Private airports are encouraged and if not available, teams are to use private aviation facilities to board and exit. Transportation Security Administration screen should take place at ballparks if it can be arranged.
- In-flight catering is limited.
- Lower floors are to be used if possible at hotels so stairs can be used instead of elevators, and private areas arranged for entrances, exits and check-in.
- Six staggered bus trips will be scheduled to and from the ballpark.
Team staff, including players, will be given thermometers for self screening and are to take two tests in quick succession each morning.
At the ballpark, people will be given temperature checks twice a day and multiple fluid swabs each week. Comprehensive Drug Testing will collect samples and Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City is to provide results within 24 hours.
Family members of players, umpires and the households of anyone covered under the plan will be offered access to testing and PPE. The individuals are encouraged to avoid crowds when away from the ballpark.
Anyone with a temperature of 100 or higher or who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or has come in contact with someone confirmed to be infected will be subject to rapid testing at a nearby site. A person cannot rejoin the team until testing negative twice in tests taken at least 24 hours apart. The person also must not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, and the team physician and MLB medical staff must determine the person not at risk.
If an individual is exposed to a person with an infection, that person must show no signs of disease, be tested daily for at least seven consecutive days and undergo more frequent temperature checks. The person also must wear a mask at all times except while on the field.
Each spring training and regular-season ballpark must have dedicated testing and isolation areas. MLB also will offer testing of people who live in the same household as covered individuals and to health care workers/first responders in big league cities.
Most tests will take saliva but there may be oral or nasal swabs. Blood samples will be collected less frequently for serology testing used to detect antibodies.