In 2020, MLB players carry the weight of a season played under duress. Their competitive nature will propel them to win, but “winning” has new meaning now.
In a few weeks, 900 MLB players will walk into thirty major league clubhouses as part of a bold experiment to prepare for the first game of their season. MLB 2020 – a season like no other.
As you read this, MLB players around the league are completing the final stages of testing before they are pronounced fit to play and ready to join their teammates on the field.
The real test, however, is much more personal and requires the strictest attention of individual players to read, memorize, digest, ask questions, and discuss the 101-page MLB and MLBPA Operations Manual. For the 2020 season.
MLB players are being asked, and in some cases required, to abide by these rules to accomplish the ordinarily simple task of finishing the season. Oh, there will be box scores, standings, batting and pitching stats to pour over each morning just like any season.
But the central goal for MLB players and Major League Baseball itself is to survive with everyone’s health intact. After that, all else, including an exciting postseason, is a bonus.
MLB Players Rules: Challenges Within The Challenge
Many of the rules governing the 2020 season only the desire and compliance of MLB players to break long-established habits. No spitting, no high fives, no tossing the ball around the infield after a strikeout, etc.
But others extend into areas that require not only compliance by MLB players but the application of equal justice under the law by MLB when one of these rules is violated.
Two examples were discussed in yesterday’s column. There will be a zero-tolerance policy attached to on-the-field brawls, and pitchers will be allowed to carry a “small wet rag” in their back pocket as a replacement for licking their fingers when off the rubber to gain a grip on the ball.
Guidelines and detail about both rules are noticeably absent in the Operations Manual. What, for instance, is a “small” wet rag? And what constitutes a brawl? Two players scuffling, bullpens emptying, or what?
MLB Players: Off The Field Responsibility
The rules regarding the dos and don’ts of MLB players’ behavior off-the-field have been relaxed, but will still require controlled abstinence or caution in public settings.
Teams on the road will be especially challenged. Typically, team-bonding meals among small groups of players in restaurants following day games become part of the ritual and routine of a ballplayer’s life.
Drinks and appetizers at the bar in the team hotel are a vehicle many MLB players use to unwind after a night game. And for the rookies who have never seen the lights of New York or Los Angeles, there will always be the temptation of the all-night clubs with never-ending dance music and meet-up opportunities.
Meeting The Stress Of Perfection
In 2020, MLB players will not only face the stress of throwing that perfect pitch on a full count to retire the side with the bases loaded, with the batter summoning the will to lay off that same pitch, just off the outside corner.
This year, the stakes are raised, and MLB players need perfection and total concentration not only on a single pitch but virtually every moment of their waking hours 24/7.
The challenge is enormous, and the pitfalls are everywhere, whether the consequential behavior of a single player is intentional or not.
A single misstep that results in a positive test on a single team can spread like the virus itself, and there is nothing MLB, or the MLBPA can do after the snowball begins its roll downhill.
Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio, A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You
Although Paul Simon wrote those words in a different context, indeed, our nation turns its lonely and wanton eyes to MLB players today.
We ask each of them to rise above the exceptional feats they perform for us on a baseball diamond and to accept the additional burdens placed on them – with the same spirit to win every game they play.
I don’t believe it’s an overreach to say the whole of America will stand grateful to you for overcoming the onus of playing through a pandemic. Seriously.