For the purposes of its highly detailed operations manual for the coming season, Major League Baseball refers to the players, coaches, and many staff members around a team as “covered individuals.”
The document lays out exactly what these folks can and can’t do while at the ballpark to better increase the chances of not contracting the coronavirus.
There are rules for eating, showering, and where to sit in the dugout. They are even instructed to leave the park no more than 90 minutes after a game ends.
But what the manual also acknowledges, right there in Section 2.6, is that MLB will not tell the players and coaches what to do outside the park on their own time.
NBA players agreed to go into a tightly controlled 24-hour bubble at Disney World in Orlando to complete their season. But MLB players rejected that concept early on. So the fate of the sport this season is left in the hands of good intentions.
“In order for a 2020 season to be conducted safely, covered individuals must exercise care while away from club facilities to avoid situations in which the risk of contracting the virus is elevated, such as participating in activities involving large groups or indoor activities in which people are in close proximity to one another (e.g., crowded restaurants, bars, clubs),” Section 2.6 says.
“MLB will not formally restrict the activities of covered individuals when they are away from club facilities, but will expect the covered Individuals on each club to ensure that they all act responsibly. The careless actions of a single individual places the entire team (and their families) at risk, and the covered individuals on each club should agree on their own off-field code of conduct for themselves.”
In simpler terms, baseball is counting on roughly 900 wealthy young athletes to avoid fun places before or after games, but has no capacity to punish them if they don’t.
It will fall on managers and team leaders to pull their groups together and get everyone to agree on the idea of keeping each other safe for the sake of the season. You can bet there will be team meetings making that point the first time the full roster gathers.
Rays pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton have already talked about it.
“A lot of us have mentioned that we kind of need to kind of look out for one another,” Glasnow told the Tampa Bay Times. “That nobody can go out and be irresponsible at this point. Everybody needs to follow the same rules, whether it’s at home or on the road.”
Teams with respected leaders — think Nelson Cruz of the Twins or Max Scherzer of the Nationals — could have an edge. The Cubs will count on new manager David Ross to establish that mind-set. The same will be true with Dusty Baker in Houston.
Peer pressure works in baseball. But will it stick? That will be a season-long concern.
Teams that advance deep into the playoffs this season will almost surely have a group dynamic that plays into their success, probably more this season because of how unusual it will be. Adaptability will produce success.
Another way to encourage safe behavior away from the park would be for MLB and the Players Association to revisit the idea of having 16 teams in the postseason.
A player on a contending team would think twice about stepping out and doing something that could jeopardize the season, which spreading COVID-19 through the clubhouse would obviously do.
There will always be random knuckleheads. But for most players, a sense of duty to their teammates and what they could collectively accomplish will outweigh the lure of grabbing a drink. There’s always room service.
A 16-team playoff could mean 20 or more teams will have at least some chance of the postseason in September, and that greatly increases the number of players who will be motivated to be careful.
Conversely, a 10-team playoff will mean more teams out of contention and more players inclined to be careless.
Before the Players Association voted it down, MLB’s final proposal included a 16-team playoff and $25 million in playoff pools for the players. Commissioner Rob Manfred should offer that part of the deal again and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark should encourage the players to accept it.
What many around the game perceive as a personal animus between Manfred and Clark will have to be put aside for that to happen. But it makes sense for everybody involved.
The viability of the season could well hinge on how many teams have the discipline to call it a night.
Tiant mourns a true mentor
Luis Tiant faced a career crisis in 1971, opening the season in Triple A for the Braves before being released and landing with the Red Sox. He was called up to the majors in June and finished the year 1-7 with a 4.85 earned run average.
Tiant was 30 at the time, with a wife and three kids, and wondered what his future held.
“They buried me when I got to Boston,” Tiant said. “I was in the bullpen. I said to myself, ‘What do I have to do?’ It was bad.”
But manager Eddie Kasko lobbied for the Sox to keep Tiant, and the righthander was 121-74 with a 3.30 ERA over the seven seasons that followed, twice making the All-Star team and helping lead the Sox to the 1975 World Series.
Without Kasko, who died Wednesday at the age of 88, everything could have been much different for El Tiante.
“He was a good human being, not just a good manager,” Tiant said via telephone from Florida, where he is riding out the pandemic. “I was happy to do anything for that guy. It was because of him I stayed in Boston. He was the guy who gave me the ball. He did a lot for me and my family.”
Tiant opened the ’72 season in the bullpen and made some spot starts early on. He went into the rotation in August and was 11-2 with a 1.18 ERA over 15 games, 13 of them starts, the rest of the season.
That run included 11 complete games, six of them shutouts. Tiant had four consecutive shutouts in a 16-day period that summer, giving up 16 hits over 36 innings and striking out 31.
“I had to prove myself,” Tiant said. “Eddie gave me a chance and I worked hard. I never wanted to come out of the game. It was different then. You wanted to stay in.”
Tiant also perfected his now famous Tilt-A-Whirl delivery that season, releasing the ball after turning his back to the plate and looking to the heavens.
“The first time I did it, Carlton [Fisk] said, ‘What the hell is that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but they can’t hit it,’ ” Tiant said. “I got in the dugout and Eddie told me to do whatever I wanted. I loved that guy.”
Kasko was reassigned after the 1973 season. He became a scout and later vice president of player development.
“He was important to the Red Sox,” Tiant said. “Every time I saw him, we laughed and had a good time. I was happy when the Red Sox put him in their Hall of Fame. I hope people remember him. I know he meant a lot to me.”
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ Teams have a 4 p.m. deadline on Sunday to submit their list of 60 players who will be eligible for this season. The active roster will eventually come out of this group, with the extra players practicing at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., over the course of the season to serve as backups.
Chaim Bloom said Wednesday that “a lot of different things are on the table” for that pool with the focus on making sure the major league team has enough players.
I took his comment to mean the Sox will take the opportunity to put some prospects on the list so that this season is not a total loss in terms of their development.
The best bets for those slots would be first baseman Triston Casas, infielder Bobby Dalbec, infielder Jeter Downs, outfielder Jarren Duran, and catcher/infielder Connor Wong, along with pitchers Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, and Thad Ward.
Only players from that pool will be eligible to be traded during the season. My guess is there will not be many trades outside of salary dumps for players to be named later.
Those extra players in Pawtucket will need a good nickname. Spare Sox? Paused Sox?
▪ Teams are allowed to schedule three exhibition games. That is a possibility for the Sox and could be tied to where they will open the season.
▪ Because questions have come in asking about it, the Red Sox will reset their luxury-tax penalties if they stay under the $208 million limit this season. That is contingent on the season being finished.
If the season were not completed, it would carry over to 2021.
Arroyo finds his groove
With a tip of the cap to James Taylor, Steven Tyler, and the other notable performers in the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert that was online Thursday night and raised almost $300,000, The Bronson Arroyo Band stole the show.
Their original new song “Nights Alive” was legitimately good. It had an early Eagles feel to it with Pearl Jam influences.
“Making music and trying to figure out golf, that’s how I spend my time,” said Arroyo, who retired in 2017 after a 16-year major league career. “Working with the Hot Stove people every year is so gratifying. I’m glad we were still able to do something. They’ve always made me feel welcome from back when I was a player.”
Arroyo will be watching baseball with a cautious eye this season.
“It’ll be weird, man,” he said. “There are so many variables. Take away the monetary things, how will pitchers go back out there after being away for such a long time? They’ll be rushing to get in shape and that’s when injuries happen. I worry about that with older pitchers especially.
“With the virus, I think it’ll be really difficult when you think about all the people around a club and what could happen.”
Arroyo, 43, splits his time between Key West and Cincinnati. He’s had offers from the Reds and Red Sox to work on television but doesn’t want a formal agreement that would tie him down.
“I like being able to go over to the stadium in Cincinnati and work with somebody if that’s what they need,” he said. “But I like to come and go as I want. Music is important to me, like baseball.”
Arroyo was with the Red Sox from 2003-05, winning 24 games. He can still remember new GM Theo Epstein addressing the team before the 2003 season and wondering how that would work.
“He was a fish out of water, a young guy telling all these older men, these superstar players, what he wanted to do,” Arroyo said. “He was practically my age. I’m glad to still be associated with him now.”
In Arroyo’s mind, Kevin Millar was the key to the 2004 World Series championship team.
“He made everybody come out of their shells and changed the feel of the whole team,” Arroyo said. “From David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez] and some other guys who were hard asses, we all jelled and did what we did. I always think about that, the difference one guy can make.
“We were so close as a group. I still love seeing any of those guys.”
Rich Hill, who would have been on the injured list to start the season, will be ready for the resumption of spring training with the Twins. The lefthander had what is called primary revision surgery, a ligament repair procedure less invasive than Tommy John surgery. The 40-year-old Hill has a 2.91 ERA over the last five seasons. The Twins also will have righthander Jhoulys Chacin in camp as a nonroster invitee. Chacin allowed 12 earned runs over 14⅔ innings for the Red Sox last season . . . The new rule to start the 10th inning with a runner on second base should work to get games over with quickly. The rule has been in place for two years in the minors and 93 percent of games have ended by the 11th. By the way, if that runner scores, the pitcher will not be charged with an earned run. That runner will be treated as having reached base on an error. But the pitcher would be tagged with a loss . . . Good news out of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame reopened to visitors on Friday with health and safety precautions in place. The induction ceremony for Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker remain postponed. They are now scheduled to be inducted next July 25 along with any members of the class of 2021. Nick Cafardo will posthumously receive the Spink Award a day earlier . . . Curt Schilling fell 20 votes shy of the Hall of Fame last year. He may have lost some votes this past week after his latest bit of unhinged commentary. Schilling deactivated his Twitter account after using it to suggest NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace was somehow involved with the noose found at Talladega Superspeedway. The FBI determined the noose was not a hate crime directed at Wallace, who is Black, but something done prior to his arrival at that particular garage. Enter Schilling, who compared Wallace to Jussie Smollett, the actor who allegedly staged a racist and anti-gay attack against himself in 2019 and was charged with filing false police reports. “So we have @JussieSmollett v 2.0? Where is the media recanting their idiocy?” Schilling wrote. “It was all a lie.” In fact, it was true. “The noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said … Happy 39th birthday to Brandon Phillips, who was ostensibly done with baseball after a long and accomplished career when the Red Sox signed him on June 27, 2018, as a free agent. He lingered in the minors for two months before being called up on Sept. 4 and given No. 0, which no Sox player had ever worn. He started the next day and belted a two-run homer to left field in the ninth inning as the Sox came back from a 7-1 deficit to beat the Braves, 9-8, in Atlanta. He played in eight other games and was 2 for 20 without any RBIs.