Major League Baseball is the latest sport to return amongst the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as is the case with all sports that have returned or will return in 2020, the product looks drastically different than it ever has before.
All 30 Major League Baseball teams began a 60-game truncated regular season on 7/23 & 7/24. The shortest regular season on record has allowed for experimentation on and off the field, including major changes to the traditional format of America’s favorite past time.
Like most other sports, baseball will do so without fans in attendance. They have been replaced with cardboard cutouts of fans that were available for purchase by individual franchises. Fake crowd noise will play over the speakers inside stadiums. Fans watching from remote locations are dictating what type of noise it will be, cheers or boos, from a mobile app.
Teams schedules will limit travel. They include 10 games for each team against its four divisional opponents and 20 against the opposite leagues corresponding geographical division (EX: NL Central vs. AL Central). The short schedule also prompted changes to the injured-reserve list. The former 60-day IL is now just 45-days.
The playoffs will now include 16-teams, with first and second place teams from all divisions qualifying. First round series will be best-of-three, with higher-seeded teams hosting all three games. The Divisional rounds will continue as best-of-five series. League Championship and World Series rounds will remain best-of-seven.
Differences on the Diamond
On-field behavior is among the biggest changes in Major League Baseball’s 2020 season. The use of tobacco products and spitting is no longer allowed. Celebrations, such as high-fives, fist-bumps and hugs are also banned. Managers are prohibited from arguing calls with umpires face-to-face.
Facial coverings will be mandatory at all times, except on the field during play. Players on the field have the option to wear them. Personnel in the dugouts will wear them at all times. Team employees and players not participating in games occupy seats in the stands, safely socially distanced.
Other changes include rules for games that go to extra-innings, which will now begin with a player on second base during the regular season.
Unlike professional basketball, Major League Baseball is traveling throughout the season. Players will remain seated throughout the duration of flights, except for bathroom use. At hotels, teams will occupy lower-level rooms and are discouraged from the use of elevators. Other popular amenities such as hotel restaurants, bars, fitness rooms and swimming pools are also off limits.