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peter abraham | on baseball

Chew your gum, but don’t share your pine tar: MLB issues 101-page guide on safety rules

High-fives (and fist-bumps and handshakes) will be forbidden in the age of COVID-19 baseball.
High-fives (and fist-bumps and handshakes) will be forbidden in the age of COVID-19 baseball.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Players can chew gum this season, but sunflower seeds and smokeless tobacco are strictly prohibited because spitting is forbidden. The Red Sox will be allowed to play “Sweet Caroline” to the empty seats at Fenway Park if they choose, and the top of the 10th inning will start with a runner on second base.

Welcome to Major League Baseball in the time of COVID-19, a process so complicated and unusual that it comes with a 101-page operations manual to explain how it will work.

Seemingly every detail is accounted for in the document, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe. Major League Baseball even provided diagrams suggesting how teams conduct defensive drills while maintaining social distancing.

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Spring training is scheduled to resume next Wednesday for pitchers and catchers, with other players to follow. Participants will first have to go through a screening process that includes a test for the virus and an antibody test two or three days before their report date.

From that point, temperatures will be taken and symptoms checked twice a day.

Players, coaches, and team staff members will be designated as “Tier 1 Individuals.” This group, which will be no more than 87 people — 60 of them players — will have access to a restricted area that includes the field, dugout, clubhouse, and trainers’ room.

But once the season starts, only active players will be on that list. They will have saliva tests for COVID-19 every other day.

Teams also can have 38 “Tier 2 Individuals” who will have access but be required to maintain social distance. This group would include front office staff, clubhouse staff, ownership, communications staff, and other staff members such as the traveling secretary.

They would be tested several times a week.

Other people required for games or practices — groundskeepers, security, television production personnel — will be in a third tier.

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Access to the field by the grounds crew will be regulated.
Access to the field by the grounds crew will be regulated.Stan Grossfeld

If anyone in a tier tests positive, they will be removed from the team and cannot return until they have tested negative twice 24 hours apart, also had an antibody test, and have no symptoms.

Teams will have to abide by rules for how they travel. Public transportation is banned, and teams are required to schedule at least six bus trips from the hotel to the ballpark so members of the traveling party can sit apart.

And forget air conditioning.

“Windows on buses, including any emergency exits on the roof, should be opened if possible, to maximize fresh air ventilation,” the document says.

Players have been told not to leave the team hotel other than for games. Charter flights will not include food and beverage services. Players will receive prepackaged meals and snacks when they board.

Teams are even encouraged to book blocks of rooms on the lower floors of hotels so stairs can be used instead of elevators.

Here’s how particular the health and safety rules are: Hitters must have their own pine-tar rags and bat weights; they can’t be shared. Pitchers will have personal rosin bags.

The courtesy of bringing a teammate who was on the bases his glove and cap when the inning ends is over. He has to come back to the dugout and get them himself.

Keep your hands off your teammate's glove and hat.
Keep your hands off your teammate's glove and hat.John Tlumacki

All uniformed personnel will be told to avoid fist bumps, handshakes, hugs, and high fives. So forget about wild celebrations after walkoff wins or the postgame handshake line across the infield.

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That’s probably for the best, considering players will be expected to leave the park within 90 minutes of the last pitch. Postgame buffets are banned and any food will be takeout only.

The playing rules will be different, too. There will be a universal DH for the regular season and postseason.

If a game is tied after nine innings, every half-inning that follows will start with a runner on second base. That runner will be the player preceding the leadoff hitter in that inning, or a pinch runner.

If a team has lost the DH and a pitcher is due up, the manager can use the player preceding the pitcher in the order.

That rule will not be used in the postseason.

The new rule for this season controlling when position players can pitch has been waived. Pitchers also can keep what is described as a “wet rag” in their back pocket in lieu of licking their fingers. Only water can be used on the rag and umpires can check it at any time.

Any game stopped by weather before five innings will be suspended and continued at a later date.

By Sunday at 4 p.m., teams will have to submit a list of 60 players they will choose their roster from and maintain as a pool all season. Any players not on the 40-man roster will train at an alternative site during spring training.

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For most teams, determining the 60 players will be a balance of having enough major league-capable backups to play out the season and giving some prospects a chance to work out under supervision and continue their development.

The Sox could put a player like 20-year-old Triston Casas on the roster for that purpose.

Teams can have a 30-man active roster for the first two weeks of the season, with a minimum of 25.

It falls to 28 players for the two weeks after that, then 26 for the remainder of the season.

The freeze on transactions that started March 26 will be lifted on Friday at noon. The trade deadline, usually July 31, will be Aug. 31.

Players not on the active roster will work out at a different ballpark during the season but can only play intrasquad games. No official announcement has been made, but that signifies there will not be a minor league season.

Teams can carry three players — one has to be a catcher — as a “taxi squad” on road trips.

The Red Sox can still play "Sweet Caroline," but there won't be any singalongs.
The Red Sox can still play "Sweet Caroline," but there won't be any singalongs.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The injured list will be 10 days for all players. The 60-day injured list is now 45 days. There also will be a COVID-19 injured list, which does not require a positive test. There is no minimum or maximum stay for that list.

The 60-game schedule will be 40 games in the division and 20 against teams from the corresponding division, meaning the National League East for the Red Sox.

So the Sox will play every game in the East Coast time zone. The schedule is not out yet, but the longest potential trip would be Boston to Miami. That’s approximately three hours.

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There will not be any scheduled doubleheaders.

Mascots are allowed in the park but “under no circumstances” can be on the field. Sorry, Wally.

Teams also will be allowed to play music. So “Sweet Caroline” could live on at Fenway. But there will be no touching me. Or you. Or anybody.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.