The Wet Rag and More Weird Rules MLB Is Implementing for Its Pandemic Season

In Wednesday’s Hot Clicks: MLB’s rules for a weird season, the FBI closes the Bubba Wallace case and more.
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Play ball (with appropriate distancing)!

MLB owners and players have finally come to an agreement on how to play the 2020 season. Opening Day for the 60-game season will be July 23 or 24 in teams’ home ballparks—and it’s going to be weird. 

Even beyond the truncated timeline, the coronavirus has forced MLB to make a variety of changes to how the game will be played and how the players will have to behave. The league’s primary concern is mitigating the spread of the virus, but squeezing in 60 games with limited off days after an extended layoff and abbreviated “spring” training creates additional risk for player injuries.

Those dual player-health concerns have led the league to implement several rules that would have seemed unimaginable back in February. 

First there are the changes to the rules of the game. There will be a universal DH. Games that go past nine innings will start each additional inning with a runner on second base. The rule instituted this winter limiting position player pitching appearances to blowouts won’t go into effect after all. Active rosters will be expanded to 30 players at the start of the season and eventually be contracted to 26 as the season progresses. 

And then there’s this idea, necessitated by the lack of a minor league season. 

Where things really get wild is with the health protocols. The first draft of the health manual was 67 pages, but the final copy clocks in at a whopping 101 pages. It’s that long because the league really did think of everything. (You can read the whole thing here if you really want.)

They’re really, really concerned with players touching the same surfaces as other players. This is from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark:

All hitters will now have to bring their own pine-tar rags, bat donuts and other equipment to and from the on-deck circle — and will have to retrieve their own caps, gloves and sunglasses from the dugout if an inning ends with them on base or batting. All pitchers will now have to bring their own rosin bag to the mound and use only their own baseballs for bullpen sessions. And baseballs used in batting practice can be used only that day, then need to be cleaned and sanitized, and not be re-used for at least five days. So one thing is clear: Teams are going to have to have thousands of baseballs in the old storage closet.

Similarly, pitchers are not allowed to transmit their germs to the baseball by licking their fingers and are instead allowed to carry a “wet rag” to moisten their fingers on the rubber. 

Spitting is out, too. 

There are also rules requiring physical distancing when practical. 

This might be the wildest one, though. I seriously thought it might be a joke until I read the whole rule book entry in the Hosuton Chronicle.

“Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions,” the full entry reads. 

Six feet isn’t a magic number, and viral droplets are definitely going to spread farther than that if you’re yelling, but every little thing helps. 

If MLB is going to complete this season, as COVID-19 cases spike in areas where some of its teams play, it’s going to have to avoid a widespread outbreak. That means players will have to be just as cautious during their time away from the ballpark as they are under the guidelines of the 101-page protocol. We’ll see what happens. 

No hate crime against Bubba

The noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage was a misunderstanding, the FBI found. The rope had been tied as early as October to make it easier to pull the door closed.

It’s fortunate that Wallace wasn’t the target of an act of hate in this case, but it shouldn’t cheapen the display of unity from NASCAR drivers on Monday. Wallace has still been the victim of racist attacks. Just look at all the people who waved Confederate flags outside Talladega this weekend as a response to the NASCAR ban that he fought for. Or read his Twitter mentions, where people are accusing him of perpetrating a Jussie Smollett–style hoax even though he wasn’t made aware of the alleged noose until after NASCAR had decided to investigate it. 

He’s going to be the target of even more hate now because of how this incident raised his national profile, which is why NASCAR needs to continue to stand by him.

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Email dan.gartland@si.com with any feedback or follow me on Twitter for approximately one half-decent baseball joke per week. Bookmark this page to see previous editions of Hot Clicks and find the newest edition every day. By popular request I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music featured here. Visit our Extra Mustard page throughout each day for more offbeat sports stories.