May 17, 2020 | 5:53pm
First of all, enough with the spitting.
I get why we’re all so fascinated by the notion that coronavirus baseball will be expectorate-free. Spitting is as synonymous with baseball as are home runs, stolen bases and poverty-crying owners. Guess what, though? Most players, understanding the logic behind the banishment, will go along with it. Those who mindlessly or defiantly hock a loogie will be asked to stop. The games won’t suffer. End of saga.
When you read the 67-page “2020 Operations Manual” that Major League Baseball sent to the Players Association on Friday night, however, you can find suggestions and recommendations — all of which must be approved by the union — that would potentially compromise the quality of the product, prove arduous to enforce or both if a season actually happens. Here are five that stand out:
1. No fighting
Granted, baseball never would be confused with the National Hockey League of the 1970s. In the average campaign we get only a handful of fights. Yet we count on the teams to play with an intensity level that would lead to fights should something go awry. Would the elimination of that component, with “severe discipline” promised for those who violate the ban, turn down the heat among the competitors? Of course, it would be far worse if a fight did happen with disregard for the disciplinary consequences. We’d all be fretting the health implications of it.
2. Limiting players’ movement on the road
How would Aaron Boone, Luis Rojas and their fellow managers feel about serving as the equivalent of teen-tour group leaders? “Members of the Traveling Party may not leave the Club’s hotel, and should not congregate in public areas of the hotel, for any reason unless approved in advance by appropriate Club personnel,” the proposal reads. Even if the managers get protected from legal liability, a reasonable assumption, imagine the public-relations hit of Player X contracting COVID-19 because Manager Y allowed him to leave the premises. Not that the scenario of Player X finding trouble by breaking the rules would be much better.
3. Social distancing in the dugout
Baseball’s one-on-one nature, so different from the dynamic of football, basketball, hockey or soccer, leads to much downtime for position players who aren’t at bat or pitchers who aren’t on the mound. Those guys ideally capitalize on that downtime by talking through components of the game in the dugout — learning from one another and benefiting from each other’s company and knowledge. You can do that six feet apart, especially with no crowd noise. Can you do so as intimately and effectively? Probably not.
4. Controlling infielders’ movement
This one reads so awkwardly: “When the ball is out of play or in between pitches, fielders are encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner.” Imagine an infielder consciously monitoring his movements that have come so naturally for so long. I wonder how much managers, coaches and umpires would push on this one. It sounds like more of an aspiration than a mandate.
5. Shutting down the stadium’s amenities
For starters, that’ll be one smelly bus ride back to the hotel if no one showers at the ballpark. What intrigues me more is the closing off of the saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools and cryotherapy chambers as well as discouraging the usage of indoor batting cages. Players would be ramping up following a long shutdown, and many teams could be playing in the Florida and Arizona heat if their regular-season facilities aren’t open. If they can’t manage their bodies to the extent to which they have become accustomed, will we see an increase in injuries?