MLB 2020 Rule Changes: The Spitter Is Back And Please – No Brawls

MLB 2020: A Season Like No Other (nysportsmedia)

Get ready for a host of MLB 2020 rule changes. You’ve heard about most of them, but there are a few that might raise some eyebrows. Let’s explore a couple.

The MLB 2020 rule changes are now finalized and official. As expected, there will be a designated hitter in both leagues, and each half-inning of overtime games will start with a runner on second base.

Beyond that, however, we are treated to a few surprises.

The Wet Rag Rule

MLB pitchers will be allowed to carry a small, wet rag in their back pocket; the rag will be used for moisture in place of pitchers licking their fingers. I’m not kidding; this is for real.

Gaylord Perry: "Not me, no way, Sir"
Gaylord Perry: “Not me, no way, Sir.”

The idea, of course, is a sound one as a means of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus via licked baseballs traveling around the infield following a strikeout.

Officially, Major League Baseball banned the “spitball” in 1920. Amazingly though, the spitball was still allowed to be thrown by 17 pitchers who were exempt from the restriction. Burleigh Grimes was the last to hurl a legal spitball when he retired in 1934.

Somehow, the memo never reached the desk of pitchers like Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, and Don Sutton – all of whom now have a plaque in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

Catch Me If You Can

What is small? What is wet?

And most significantly, who is charged with enforcing the rule change? Most likely, the task will be thrust at the umpiring crew with little or no direction given from the higher-ups at MLB as to what’s allowed.

So, maybe the wet rag I carry to the mound to start the fifth inning is sopping wet. And after my first warm-up pitch, I reach in my back pocket, squeezing the hell out of the rag and “wetting my pants” in the process. I’m locked and loaded now., and yet my rag is good to go.

We knew MLB 2020 was not going to be “normal.” But this is only asking for trouble and bias in attempts to enforce the rule.

Not to mention the volley of protests from hitters who see a darting fastball from a pitcher with a career ERA of 9.98 – along with the ensuing delays when the umpire is obliged to walk to the mound telling the pitcher – “Show me your rag.”

MLB 2020 Will Be A Gentleman’s Game – No Brawls!

Once again, we have a rule engineered with the best of intentions. The “No Brawls” rule is designed to provide for the maximum safety of players by eliminating unnecessary contact.

But here is the actual language provided by CBS Sports.

MLB 2020: Uh, Uh - No more brawls (
MLB 2020: Uh, Uh – No more brawls (

“In 2020, players and managers will be held to a zero-tolerance standard regarding arguments and bench-clearing fights. All MLB players, managers, and coaches will be expected to maintain social distancing — which requires there to be at least six feet between each person — guidelines from all umpires and opposing players”.

“The league plans to punish any of those who break this rule to immediate ejection and subsequent discipline, including a possible fine and suspension.”

That last sentence says it all when MLB uses words like “plans to” and “possible” when it comes to enforcing the rule.

And besides, what is a “brawl”? Is a brawl a scuffle between two players at second base over a take-out slide? Do the bullpens of both teams need to empty to constitute a brawl? Do punches need to be thrown?

The Success Or Failure Of MLB 2020 Rests With The Players

Neither of the rule changes discussed above is enforceable with equal justice applied.

1876 First Publication Of Baseball Rules (Photo: Pinterest)
1876 First Publication Of Baseball Rules (Photo: Pinterest)

As in the cases of civil and criminal laws on the books that end up thrust into the hands of local and state police departments (in this case umpires) to enforce, the best of intentions do not always comply with the Fourth Amendment guaranteeing equal justice for all.

There will always be a small group of players who will find ways to cheat just as there are players who will always be ultra-competitive and subject to fiery temper tantrums that result in on-the-field combat.

As with the myriad of new rules about the safety of players amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the success or failure of these two rests solely in the hands of the players’ willingness to practice them.

Therefore, the MLB 2020 season may well be decided by the team best following the new rules, and not necessarily the best team.

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.