America's pastime is set to return next month, with a version of the sport never before seen in more than a century of Major League Baseball.
This 60-game, coronavirus-edition of baseball will include rules that preclude any pitchers from picking up a bat, require players to sit in the stands and employ an artificial tie-breaking procedure, among of a host of other 2020 oddities.
Even casual baseball fans will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief, when they see ...
Extra innings and an extra baserunner
In hopes of curbing marathon games, each team will start an extra inning with a runner already at second base.
The batter who made the last out of the previous inning will start the next frame standing at second, thus dramatically increasing his team's chances of scoring a run.
It's a safety measure aimed at preventing long extra-inning games with teams posting continuous goose eggs on the scoreboard.
A game of 90 feet and 6 feet
Players who are not expected to get into that day's game — such as the next day's starting pitcher —will have to sit in the stands or in other areas away from teammates, so as to keep social distancing.
Also, there will be no spitting, chewing tobacco or celebratory contact such as high fives, fist bumps or hugs in 2020.
Chewing gum will still be allowed.
Now batting, the designated hitter
In American League play, pitchers already do not step up to the plate and hit.
Instead, a designated hitter bats in his place, an AL rule first adopted in 1973 and resisted by the National League ever since.
But under new MLB rules for at least this 2020 season, the designated hitter will be universal, to protect pitchers from possible injury in executing a skill they rarely practice.
It’s now a favorite tool of American League managers to give their stars a semi-day off, by having them only play offense and not defense. That’s a crucial benefit in a 2020 season where concern for player health and safety is at an all-time high.
East will not meet West
MLB will keep to its current format of six divisions — the American and National League East, Central and West.
But now games will only be against division rivals and the corresponding division of the other league.
So, for example, the New York Yankees schedule will consist of 10 games against four foes in the American League East — the Boston Red, Tampa Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. The other 20 games would be four contests against five interleague opponents from the National League East — the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals.
A normal season is 162 games, consisting of games against every team in your league and a smattering of contests against clubs from the other league.
Home sweet (empty) home
With the coronavirus still raging in America, games will be played in empty stadiums, like the behind-closed-doors games now being contested in South Korea and Japan.
It’s not clear when, or if, fans will be allowed back into MLB parks this summer or fall.