Social distancing ball: guidelines and rule adjustments

Leigh Allan

Pursuant to agreement among MLB, the MLBPA, the MLBUA, the CDC and Scott Boras, the following procedures and rules are to be followed upon the initiation of MLB play in 202_.

NOTE: These rules and procedures supersede the previous decision to avoid all issues of baserunning or defense by following the trend of 2019 and continuing acceleration enhancement of MLB balls and making the only available batting outcomes strikeouts or home runs. Focus group results to that plan were negative, which was an important learning experience, since on current trends, the only available batting outcomes being strikeouts or home runs will be the actual status of MLB no later than 2028. Further, input suggested that MLB will cease to be economically viable or a factor in American life within two seasons after that happens, so "two true outcomes" trajectory will not be pursued at this time.

I. Stadium alterations

1. In order to maintain proper social distancing rules, all teams must make the following adjustments to their facilities, in effect until such time as the CDC and MLB advise it is safe to return to normal activities:

A. All dugouts and bullpen areas will have delineated individual spaces no less than ten (10) feet apart, with direct access to the field from each space. Each space will be so designed as to provide room for all of the player's or coach's equipment, and each will contain a personal sink with hot water and soap. Players and coaches must wash their hands prior to entering the field and immediately after returning therefrom. The public address must broadcast suitable music to provide guidance to ensure a minimum of twenty (20) seconds of hand washing. One full chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" or two rounds of the chorus of "na, na, na , na, na, na , na, na, he-eeey, good-bye" are recommended.

B. Because of limited space in most dugouts, only players actually in the game, the manager, and the two base coaches may be in the dugout. During the period when no audience will be in the stadia, other players, coaches, and auxiliary personnel may sit in the stands, with the same ten (10) feet of separation. Bullpen procedures will be similar. Once stadia are open to the public, no audience members will be allowed in the sections where players are seated.

Proper dugout design.Getty Images

2. Teams must make any other alterations necessary to their stadium facilities to ensure that no personnel must at any time be within six (6) feet of any other person before, after, or during a game.

II. Pre-game procedures

1. All home players and coaches must don their uniforms at home, then come to the stadium in their private vehicle, either driving themselves or being driven by a family member or significant other with whom they cohabitate. Upon arrival at the facility, their equipment will be disinfected.

2. Home teams will provide visiting teams with the availability of a hotel or other suitable facility for their exclusive use. Such facility will be within walking distance of the stadium when possible. If not possible, players will be transported in individual vehicles, driven by persons certified free of COVID-19. Players should dress in their hotel rooms. Upon arrival at the facility, their equipment will be disinfected.

A. All travel by visiting teams shall be by chartered aircraft large enough to allow that no player or coach sits with eight (8) feet of another, and need never pass within said distance.

3. Because clubhouses in normal use necessitate close proximity, on game days their use will be limited to treatment of injuries. Such treatment shall be carried out by licensed medical personnel in CDC-approved protective gear. Use of clubhouses between games will be limited by social distancing and disinfection rules and guidelines.

4. Instead of Delaware River mud, all balls to be used in warm-ups or games will be rubbed with a solution of no less than eighty (80) percent alcohol.

III. Field alterations

There are numerous occasions when usual baseball procedures would require players to be in violation of social distancing rules and recommendations. Therefore, the following adjustments will be made at all fields:

1. The normal location of batter, catcher, and home plate umpire put those persons too close together, so the following changes will be made:

Carlos Lee Stance 2004 (Rob Wyszkowski)
Too close.Rob Wyszkowski/South Side Hit Pen

A. The back line of the batter's box will become a hard rule. Any player erasing or smudging that line will be ejected.

B. The catcher's box will add a line across the box, four feet back from the front. Catchers will set up behind that line.

NOTE: Because of the difficulty of cleanly catching a pitch when that far back, no stealing of bases will be allowed. Given the recent severe downward trend in steals, this is not expected to impact play. See below.

C. Home plate umpires will set up no less than eight (8) feet behind the catcher. Because this will make it extremely difficult to see the strike zone properly, all strikes will be first determined by an approved and calibrated pitch radar device, which will immediately advise the umpire of its decision. However, the umpire's decision will be final.

NOTE: The MLBUA has approved of this change with the stipulation that once all health reasons for the action have been overcome, ball-and-strike calling will immediately return to the prior system without electronic devices, and will remain so for a minimum of ten (10) years.

2. The use of one base for both the base runner and the defense at the same time risks putting players into disallowed proximity. Therefore, each base will consist of two physical bags. One set, to be used by runners, will be the customary ninety (90) feet apart. The other, to be used by the defense, will be placed in an identical diamond design, with first and third bases eight (8) feet behind the runners' base, and second base and home plate approximately ten (10) feet behind. 

See examples of runner base and fielder base below:


IV. Playing rule adjustments

In order to keep players separated during the course of play, the following rule changes will apply:

1. As noted above, no stealing of bases and no attempting to advance on a third strike that is not caught in the air by the catcher. Baserunners will be allowed to lead off no more than ten (10) feet until such time as the pitched ball passes home plate. Should they decide to proceed further after the ball passes the plate, they do so at their own risk, and must return to the base if the batter does not hit the pitch fair. Pitchers will be required to pitch from the stretch if there are runners on base.

2. In the case of plays where a defensive player having possession of the ball and touching the base would normally produce an out, such as a force play, the same situation applies, but the defensive player will use the defense bag, the runner the runners' bag. Umpires shall base calls as if the play were at the same physical base.

3. In the case of situations which would normally require a tag, the runner shall slide into the runner's base and the fielder shall apply a tag to the defense bag. The umpire shall judge whether the tag arrived in time for an out.

A, In the case of particularly athletic evasive slides, the umpire shall judge whether the runner would have evaded the tag. In the case if a runner sliding past the base, the umpire shall decide whether the fielder held the tag long enough to produce an out.

Possibly qualifying athletic slide, Note position of fielder is

B. In plays at home, the catcher will be permitted to block his home plate without possession of the ball, but may not interfere with the runner's home plate.

C. In the event of a rundown, runners and fielders will use their own base paths. Either veering within six (6) feet of the other shall be declared out in the case of the runner, or safe if the fielder is in violation. The umpire(s) will determine whether or not the play resulted in an out.


MLB realizes that the rule changes involve new and sometimes difficult calls for umpires, which may result in disagreement. Because expressing dissatisfaction with a call is considered integral to the game, on-field protesting shall remain permissible. However, because those speaking in anger or excitement may be inclined to put forth expectoration for longer distances than during normal speech, no player, coach or manager protesting a call may come closer than twelve (12) feet to any umpire or other player during the course of the disagreement. Violation will result in expulsion and fine.

Failure to properly socially distance.@WhiteSox
Practicing safe Sox.@WhiteSox

In the case of formal request for review, one umpire shall be designated to make all calls and shall proceed to the headset alone. The headset shall be disinfected before and after each call.

V. Uniforms

Regular uniforms will be permitted to be worn, provided they have been sanitized immediately before each game. The following new rules will apply:

1. Surgical or similar face masks may be worn, at player discretion. However:

A. Masks shall be in keeping with the uniform color and style being worn, and shall maintain the dignity of MLB.

B. No mask may carry wording or design that insults opponents.

C. Pitchers may not wear masks that reflect light in such a way as to distract batters.

D. Face masks may cover the bottom portion of the face only. No "Willie Nelson" style bandanas will be permitted.

Ursula Andress demonstrated improper baseball face mask in Red Sun.Pinterest

2. Because of the difficulty of maintaining proper social distancing in the heat of the moment when two or more players are pursuing a ball, the added expectoration expectation when yelling and excited, and the likelihood that a player choosing to wear a face mask and trying to yell "mine, mine" will sound more like "mmph, mmph," each fielder will wear a horn to be used to announce his intention to field the ball. Said horn will be hand operable and not interfere with the performance of regular fielding duties. Other fielders hearing the horn should veer off to a safe distance.

Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball demonstrate proper horn storage for fielders.Pinterest

VI. Communications

The number of visits to the pitchers mound per game and per inning shall remain in accordance with current rules, with the nature of those visits adjusted for social distancing.

1. If a catcher wishes to communicate in confidence with his pitcher, he shall so indicate to the umpire by raising his hand, then, when time has been called, proceed past the batter by a safe distance to a point no more than twenty (20) feet in front of home plate. Upon arriving at that location, he will be allowed to use a mobile device to text to the pitcher. The pitcher, similarly equipped, shall be permitted to respond by text. Normal time restrictions shall be enforced by the home plate umpire. During the conversation, infielders may join in, but must come no closer than eight (8) feet from the pitcher or each other.

2. If a manager or coach wishes to converse with or remove a pitcher, the same rules apply. The manager will be permitted to pull out his device after time has been called and he has crossed the foul line, at which point he must not proceed further.

3. Use of any electronic communications devices for any other purpose, or at any time other than after time out has been officially called, by any player, manager or coach is strictly forbidden and shall result in immediate expulsion, suspension, and fines. An exception for celebration is outlined in section VII below.

Impermissible mobile device use.CTVNews

A. The only exception to the severity of punishment will be if the illicit communication is used to tell a batter what pitch is coming. Due to precedent of "The Astro Rule," such action will result only in a slap on the wrist, delivered by a glove at the end of a social-distancing-verified ten (10) foot pole.

Exception to communication punishment

VII. Celebrations

MLB recognizes that celebrating a winning run, a home run, or an especially excellent performance by a fielder or pitcher is a natural part of the game, without which it would be difficult to maintain enthusiasm among players and fans. However, social distancing requirements do no allow spontaneous activities that bring team members in close proximity. Therefore:

1. Each team will be allowed one additional roster position, to be occupied by a person who has been tested and found free of and immune to COVID-19. That person will be the team's DC, or Designated Celebrator. He will be permitted to perform "high fives," fist bumps, chest bumps, GatorAde dumping and such other activities as may be appropriate.

2. Other team members may voice support, but are admonished that unbridled enthusiasm can result in the kind of expectoration acceleration mentioned above. Players are encouraged to instead pass congratulations via text message. To avoid violation of the communication rules in section VI, such contact should be done solely through the use of emojis. The following emojis are specifically endorsed for congratulation use by MLB:


VIII. Possible updates and alterations

It is understood that all of these rules and procedures are untested, and may require some adaptation once actual play begins. However, no team may make any such changes without the expressed written consent of the Commissioner of Baseball, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Scott Boras.

PLAY BALL!!!! And may the best team win!

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Comments (8)
No. 1-3
Phil Hundley
Phil Hundley


Very nicely, done, Leigh. I tip my hat.

Ashley Sanders
Ashley Sanders


I really enjoyed the extent of this article! Really great job, Leigh!

Mark Liptak
Mark Liptak


I'm assuming this story is a least I hope so. Oh by the way, they aren't playing this year, we better get used to that fact.