Major League Baseball Announces New Rule Changes for 2020 Season

The COVID-19 shortened 2020 season will feature big changes aimed at reducing chances of infection among players.

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Yes, Major League Baseball is coming back. No, it won’t be the same. That’s one takeaway from newly-announced MLB rules that could substantially alter the nature of the game. Rules like this: The National League will have designated hitters.

That’s not all, but it’s one new wrinkle that’s likely to tick off some fans and please National League pitchers. 

Below is a list of some of the more interesting changes, bullet points quoted from Major League Baseball’s press release about the shakeup. Obviously, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, some of these wouldn’t be necessary:

  • National League games will include the use of the designated hitter for the first time in history.
  • An extra-innings rule will begin each extra inning with a runner on second base.
  • As previously announced, the new three-batter minimum rule will require the starting or any relief pitcher to pitch to a minimum of three batters, including the batter then at bat (or any substitute batter), until such batters are put out or reach base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness.
  • …[Any] player may appear as a pitcher at any point during the game (i.e., no extra inning requirements or six-run rule, as were once planned for 2020). However, all players eligible to participate in the game, regardless of position, must be included on that game’s lineup card.
  • Each Club must submit a written COVID-19 Action Plan for approval by MLB.
  • Spitting is prohibited (including but not limited to, saliva, sunflower seeds or peanut shells, or tobacco) at all times in Club facilities (including on the field). Chewing gum is permitted.
  • Pitchers may carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers.
  • Clubs must provide expanded dugout and bullpen space at their ballparks.
  • Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball…

It’s interesting to note this is somewhat buried in the list. MLB states that rules regarding “unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field.”

The statement continues: “In this respect, players and managers should maintain physical distancing from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible. Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.”

Put simply: The storied baseball brawl, source of many seasonal highlight videos, is not going to happen without some very serious consequences.

Some players have already decided they don’t want to deal with a truncated season with the looming threat of the coronavirus over their heads:

  • Ian Desmond, OF, Colorado Rockies. 
  • Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks. 
  • Ryan Zimmerman, INF, Washington Nationals. 
  • Joe Ross, RHP, Nationals.

In a statement, Ryan Zimmerman likely expressed the feelings of the other players, saying that “After a great deal of thought and given my family circumstances — three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at high risk — I have decided not to participate in the 2020 season.”

“Everyone knows how much it means to me to be a part of a team,” Zimmerman continued, “and I will miss that camaraderie dearly this year. Of course, I would love to pursue back-to-back titles. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family…”

Major League Baseball begins July 23 and currently is scheduled to end September 27 with postseason play beginning September 29.