As we gradually transition from the Corona lockdown to social and economic renewal, people are itching to get their lives back. On that subject, a virtue-signaling commentator remarked that baseball seemed trivial in the face of all the sickness and death from this pandemic. I beg to differ.
Certainly, every one of the hundred thousand COVID-19 fatalities in this country is a personal tragedy to the friends and families affected. And the rest of the nation deeply sympathizes. But that doesn’t justify a perpetual state of national mourning or confinement. At some point, life must go on. Major (and Minor) League Baseball continued during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War. (And kids played Little League.) Shortly after 9/11, baseball resumed. With proper precautions, it’s about time now. No, baseball isn’t “trivial.” It’s a unique part of our culture and serves as recreation and entertainment for many millions, along with other sports, TV, reading, music, hiking, biking, fishing and all the “trivial” things we do when we’re not working.
Major League Baseball has proposed protocols for the resumption of play as the virus begins to recede. They include locker room restrictions such as no showers and players arriving at the ballpark already in uniform. Team personnel are prohibited from eating at restaurants on road trips. Mascots, like the Rockies’ Dinger, would be banned from the playing field. Masks must be worn in the dugout and the phone to the bullpen will be disinfected after each call. Social distancing must be maintained while standing for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Players and coaches shall not touch their face while giving signs and pitchers may not lick their fingers. There’ll be no pregame exchange of lineup cards between opposing managers at home plate. Celebratory high-fives, fist bumps and hugging will not be permitted. (Presumably, triumphal water-barrel dousings after game-winning walk-offs or no-hitters will also be disallowed.) And, spitting is outlawed.
Some restrictions are understandable in the current environment. Their adoption is subject to negotiation with the players’ union which will likely go along with most but may balk at the prohibition of spitting, a time-honored, essential baseball practice. Maybe they’ll settle for a designated spitter.
With these changes to the game and no fans in the stands, this will be strikingly different from the “American Pastime” as we’ve known it. While it’ll be well worth it to get the game back, I can envision some difficulties and unintended consequences. For example, one protocol calls for separation between fielders and baserunners between pitches. With the six-foot social distancing rule in effect, baserunners leading off first base will be sitting ducks for pickoffs. Symbolically, thrilling pre-game precision flyovers of F-16s in tight formation will have to maintain at least six feet of separation between wing tips.
The spectacle of a manager charging out of the dugout after a disputed call to get in an umpire’s face, attempting to kick dirt on his pants and screaming unintelligible, muffled profanities through a face mask will look a little silly from six feet away. We’ll also have the futility of fifty players on the field in a bench-emptying brouhaha practicing social distancing.
There’ll be similar social-distancing problems when basketball, hockey and football return. Jump balls are out, as are screens and picks. And dunking will be impossible from six feet away with a defender planted in the paint between the dunker and the basket. All we’ll see are 3-pointers and undefended long rebounds.
In hockey, face offs will be a stretch, body checking will be outlawed, there’ll be no tip-ins or rebounds at the edge of the crease and a fist fight could go a full ten rounds with social-distancing officials unable to jump in to break it up.
Social-distancing would make football problematic. Given all the troubles the Broncos have had with their offensive line unable to adequately protect the quarterback, just imagine the holes that’d be open with six-foot gaps between the center, guards and tackles. (On the other hand, Garrett Bowles couldn’t get close enough to draw a flag for holding a pass rusher.) Defensive backs would have a hard time breaking up passes six feet from a receiver. Field goals would be difficult with place kickers six feet from holders. Then again, linebackers, or any defensive player for that matter, wouldn’t be allowed to tackle anyone. This, too, would change the game as we’ve known it.
If only we could prohibit the COVID-19 virus from getting within six feet of a person.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.