Will MLB’s Proposed Restrictions Change the Way Baseball Is Played for Good?

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Another week and we’re not really any closer to knowing if we’re going to see Dodgers baseball this season. On Thursday, the MLBPA delivered its proposal to MLB and word came Friday that MLB will return with its concerns and any possible changes on Tuesday.

So, in the meantime, one can’t help but wonder what the games will be like with all the proposed changes. Will the new safety implementations cause players to fundamentally change the way they act and play the game?

If baseball comes back, it will be without fans, at least for the beginning of the season and most likely through it all. Other changes include things like no sunflower seed spitting, no high-fives, and social distancing in the clubhouse and dugout, among other things.

Starting pitchers who are not pitching that day could be asked to not sit in the dugout, but instead sit in the stands. Players were also asked not to shower at the stadium.

If you are a regular reader you will know of my love of listening to the Dodger related podcasts to get my Dodgers fix. This week’s guest on On Air with Joe and Orel was Walker Buehler. He stated that he is worried about having to watch his mouth while he’s on the mound. The hard-throwing right hander has a reputation for having a foul mouth—there’s a reason he’s often referred to as ‘Walker F’in Buehler.’ No fans in the stadium will inevitably lead to all players being easy to hear.

Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser also mused that no fans would also mean that they themselves would be easier to hear on the field while they were broadcasting a game. They worried that they may give away the next pitch accidentally while trying to predict what a pitcher might throw.

Manager Dave Roberts admitted that he himself is an avid spitter, something else that is proposed to be banned. He said that most of the time, he doesn’t even know that he’s doing it, and many times he does it out of nerves or habit.

So many of the things are proposed to be banned are inherently ingrained in the DNA of baseball players after a lifetime of playing the game. Last week, I wondered how long these measures would be strictly followed before the players slip, or relax how they conduct themselves. I think it would be less than a week before the players have self-eased a lot of the restrictions.

What will be interesting to watch is how hard a line MLB is willing to take. If it’s just a player here or there, fines could be enough to curb the behavior. If it’s half the team or more who are still reverting to pre-Covid 19 days, how would MLB enforce that? What happens if there’s a walk-off home run and the team so swept up in emotion and still does a group celebration at home plate? It seems it would be hard to punish a whole team for doing what is only natural to them.

Of course, there could be some schisms within teams, where some players might be much more strict on their own measures of safety and social distancing, and others will be much more relaxed about the whole thing. How testing is handled could go a long way to alleviate that worry. 

Teams will have to come up with innovative ways to hype themselves up when there are no fans there to help, and again to celebrate while they’re not supposed to be close or touching. Butt pats and arm bashing are so common in celebration. But, the Dodgers have a history of having on the field signals, such as their ‘barrels are overrated’ hand shakes while standing on first or second. I have no doubt they will come up with others to handle these new rules.

It will also be interesting to see if the changes for this pandemic-shortened season stay moving forward. One of the proposed changes, a universal DH, most likely will stay. I am a baseball purist, and I like the pitchers batting. But I am for the DH for this season, especially with the possibilities of double headers and a condensed season. Other things, like off-hands celebrations and clubhouse precautions, may stay that way for a good while.

In some good news, Governor Newsom this week announced that professional sports could be played in stadiums in California starting in June, one more hurdle jumped on the way to getting sports playing again.

Once again, I hope by this time next week, we will have more clarity in either direction about whether there will be baseball this season. We here at TBPC wish you all a happy Memorial Day Weekend, and remember all those who gave their lives for the betterment of our country.

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