MLB is Back, But There's Going to be an Entirely Different Look to Parts of Season for Athletics and Everybody Else

A flurry of one-time rules have been put into place, but we really don't know how they will play out once the players are on the field and games count. The advent of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has led to changes that will impact the way we watch games and what we expect to see on our TVs  and pads.
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We know that baseball is scheduled to come back over the weekend of July 23-24.

What we don’t know is what baseball will look like.

Yes, there will still be familiar images that cross out big screens – doubles in the gap, called third strikes, 6-4-3 double plays, umpire call reversals and home plate collisions. There will be arguments over official scorer calls, batting races that could be off-the-charts because of a 60-game limit and maybe a Cy Young Award winner owning an 8-2 record.

There will be fights and ejections, brush-back pitches and choreographed bat flips.

A universal DH? You may or may not like it, but the concept isn’t difficult to understand. Pitchers won’t hit. Period. And starting each extra inning with a runner at second base. Again, it’s not difficult to grasp, regardless of whether or not you like the concept.

But we don’t know what large portions of the sport will look like in a 66-day, 60-game season cut to fit the dictates of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Will there be stoppages in one city because of a COVID-19 that forces home games to be moved to neutral sites? How will the Astros feel giving up a home series against the Athletics over the dictates of a sudden influx of coronavirus?

What will happen the first time a player spits? The new rule is that spitting is prohibited at all times in the dugout and on the field. How will umpires react to that? Will they even care? Will a player be ejected? Suspended? I don’t have a crystal ball, but that one could go away, in practical terms after just a week or two.

Will players take to sitting in the stands with no fans owning those seats or hang out in the clubhouse? There are going to be 30-man rosters, and most dugouts can’t handle anything close to that number and still live up to social distancing guidelines. How weird will it be to see a pinch-runner called out of section 221, row 1, seat 8?

Will players simply walk away from their teams because someone in their family has come down with COVID-19 or because he doesn’t like what he sees in the way baseball is caring for the health of its players? I’d be stunned if that doesn’t happen. Players are like everybody else; they don’t know exactly what baseball is going to look like until it’s in front of them and they can look at it.

For decades fans have claimed foul balls and home runs. The scramble makes for a decent short snippet of television in a three-hour broadcast. Who’s going to get those balls hit into the stands? At a time when clubs are trying to cut down number of game-day workers with no fans on hand, will they have to hire ball shaggers simply because there are no fans?

And then there are the physical distancing rules. The rules say players can’t socialize, fraternize or come within six feet of each other before the game, during warmups, in between innings or after the game. OK. Just one question when the A’s play the Diamondbacks and Arizona catcher Stephen Vogt drops by just for a moment to say to buddies he once went to war with?

Vogt is a smart guy, knows the rules and likely would be law abiding. But in a moment of spontaneity he slips up, what’re you going to do. And who’s going to monitor it, anyway? Will umpires be on the field three hours before the game?

And what happens when a player or a coach or manager charges an umpire after a bad call? Getting used to a six-foot no-entry zone is going to go again muscle memory, and rules that call for immediate ejections with the possibility of fines and/or suspensions are going to seem more than a little dumb if a player gets within 4½ feet and is tossed.

One more thing about the extra-innings rule where each half inning after the ninth inning will begin with a runner at second base. When the runner scores, is it an earned run?

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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