By Joe Pantorno
Late Monday night saw Major League Baseball reach health and safety agreements for the 2021 season, which is set to begin as regularly-scheduled on Apr. 1 with a spring training starting up in a week.
Out of the experimental rules that the league instituted in 2020, seven-inning doubleheaders and an automatic runner on second base to start extra innings made the cut for 2021.
The universal designated hitter — which has been something fans have been begging for — is not apart of the plans. Neither is the expanded postseason that saw 16 teams make the playoffs instead of 10.
Both the universal DH and expanded playoffs were initially linked in a 154-game proposal Major League Baseball sent to the players’ union at the start of the month but was rejected.
The uncertainty surrounding the DH in the National League prevented teams from properly constructing their rosters comfortably in the earlier stages of the offseason. It also will cost veteran hitters that can’t keep up in the field jobs for at least another season.
Depending on how negotiations go between MLB and the MLBPA regarding a new Collective Bargaining Agreement following the 2021 season — that’s saying if the two sides can actually come to an agreement — the universal DH is expected to come in 2022.
Of course, that’s a sizable assumption considering the two negotiating parties have been unable to come to an agreement in talks to construct the eventual 60-game 2020 season amid the pandemic and the subsequent discourse on how this year will play out.
Rules aside, and more important in the grand scheme of things, are the actual health-and-safety protocols that will help ensure a 162-game season will be completed as we approach what will hopefully be the final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As first reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, players will wear sensors that will allow teams to monitor social distancing and conduct contract tracing if there is a positive test within their ranks. This technology has been similarly used in the NFL and NBA.
Unlike last year, however, players will be subject to suspensions or forfeiture of salary for violating protocols — the latter being levied if the person in question misses playing time.
With spring training upon us, players and staff must conduct a five-day at-home quarantine while those already living near spring-training sites can use outdoor facilities with the team’s permission. PCR COVID-19 tests are “encouraged” within the week before the start of spring training.
At spring training, players and coaches will undergo intake screenings “of at least a temperature check, PCR test, and rapid antibody test” and will continue “at least every other day through spring training, the regular season and, if necessary, the postseason.”
Major leaguers will not be permitted to attend indoor gatherings of 10 or more people, indoor dining areas or bars, fitness and wellness centers not affiliated with their team or MLB, and entertainment venues, among others. Traveling teams will also not be permitted to leave their hotel unless it’s for the ballpark.