The COVID-19 pandemic led Major League Baseball to shave 102 games off each team’s regular-season schedule last year as it squeezed in a delayed and abbreviated season.
This year, MLB and the players are going to even greater lengths to get in, safely and on time, spring training, all 162 games of the regular season, and a complete postseason.
The biggest changes on the lengthy list of health and safety protocols — a copy of which was obtained by the Globe — concern contact tracing, with players, coaches, and staff required to wear Kinexon wrist sensors while traveling and at the ballpark.
If the device reveals close contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, a mandatory quarantine of seven days will be imposed and other measures taken to lessen the chance of a teamwide outbreak.
“We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB employees to protect one another,” said MLB in a statement. “The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format.”
Among the many other changes:
· MLB can relocate teams to neutral sites, if necessary, in the regular season and postseason.
· MLB can postpone games “if necessary to protect the health and safety” of team personnel.
· Vaccinations will be voluntary, but both MLB and the Players’ Association will “strongly encourage” players to get vaccinated at the appropriate time as determined by public health officials.
· A three-phase spring training will be staged, with games potentially shortened to five or seven innings in the first half of the exhibition season.
Frequent COVID-19 testing will continue, but restrictions on movement and behavior will be beefed up, beginning with a leaguewide “Code of Conduct” meant to keep a lid on off-field activities that would increase the chances of being exposed to the virus.
Players and staff cannot gather in groups larger than 10 or enter any restaurant, gym, bar, or similar establishment. During the season, members of a team’s traveling party cannot leave their hotel unless it’s to participate in outdoor exercise or a “low-risk” outdoor activity, and no members outside the traveling party are allowed into a hotel room. Even players can’t enter a teammate’s hotel room without express permission.
Before reporting to spring training, players will need to quarantine for five days. During spring training, team members must remain at home unless they’re going to and from their spring training site or engaging in an essential activity such as food shopping or a medical visit.
Phase 1 of spring training will extend from the reporting date to Feb. 20, when players will work out individually or in small groups.
In Phase 2, from Feb. 21-26, larger group workouts will be permitted.
Phase 3 begins when games commence Feb. 27 or 28. Until March 13, games can be shortened to five or seven innings if both managers agree. From March 14 on, teams will play nine-inning games unless both managers want to shorten a game to seven innings.
There will be no overnight trips during spring training, and if a player wants to drive himself to a game rather than take the bus, that’s allowed.
Players will continue to be monitored for symptoms twice a day, with a temperature at or above 100.4 cause to be barred from playing. MLB will offer free testing to members of players’ and staffs’ households.
In addition, each club is being asked to provide free COVID-19 testing for local health-care workers, first responders, and youth organizations as a public service.
Players will face fines and other discipline for not wearing the data tracking device. Any data collected and stored by the device will be deleted after 21 days.
Each team will submit its own “COVID-19 Action Plan” and be responsible for monitoring and enforcement of all the health and safety protocols.
Many of the 2020 protocols will remain intact.
Players who test positive must isolate for at least 10 days before being allowed to return to the team; there will be no exchange of lineup cards; masks must be worn at the ballpark unless in action on the field or during pregame warmups; and there shall be no on-field arguments or altercations.
Five-member taxi squads will stick with the 26-man roster, to be on call in case of an injury or COVID-related absence.
Seven-inning doubleheaders and extra innings beginning with a runner on second base — changes implemented last year — will remain. For this year at least, the National League will revert to pitchers hitting, meaning no universal DH.
Media regulations are still being hammered out, but reporters will still not be allowed “in close physical proximity” to any players, coaches, or team personnel.
Rules forbidding the use of saunas and steam rooms, and riding in taxis, Uber, and Lyft, remain in effect.
Detailed guidance on proper lavatory hygiene and behavior on trains and planes is spelled out, as are on-field and batting-cage movement patterns for players and coaches.