Major League Baseball announced health and safety protocols for 2021 on Tuesday. They are extensive and will come with penalties and possible suspensions for players for blatant violations as year 2 in the pandemic era gets set to begin next week.
Spring training begins Feb. 17. The White Sox Cactus League opener is Feb. 27 against the Brewers.
Doubleheaders with seven-inning games and extra inning games beginning with a runner on second base will return in 2021. Spring training games could be shortened to five innings or seven innings until March 13 if both managers agree on it. Also for spring games, innings won’t have to be completed if a pitcher has thrown 20 pitches. And pitchers will be allowed to re-enter after being removed.
Also, three outs to complete an inning won’t be necessary in the early going of spring games, and substitution rules will be loose as games take on something of a scrimmage-style format.
“We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB employees to protect one another,” MLB said in a statement announcing its agreement with the Players Association. “The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format,” MLB said. “We have built on last year’s productive collaboration between MLB and the Players Association by developing an enhanced safety plan with the consultation of medical experts, infectious disease specialists, and experts from other leagues. We all know the commitment it will take from each of us to keep everyone safe as we get back to playing baseball, and these enhanced protocols will help us do it together.”
Players, on-field staff and non-playing personnel who require access to them at ballparks must wear electronic tracing wristbands from the start of spring training and face discipline for violations.
Players will be encouraged to get vaccines but are not required to get them.
Violations of the MLB or club codes of conduct or of spring training home quarantine are subject to potential discipline, including but not limited to suspension or forfeiture of salary for days spent away from the club while in mandatory self-isolation or quarantine resulting from the violation.
Player discipline would be subject to the just cause provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.
Vaccination for the coronavirus will be voluntary for all players but MLB and the MLBPA will strongly encourage players to undergo vaccination at the appropriate time.
Active rosters will return to 26 from Opening Day through Aug. 31 and 28 for the rest of the regular season, as originally intended for 2020, down from the 28 used throughout last season. Each team can travel with up to five taxi squad players for road games, and if all five are used one must be a player designated before the season as a catcher. The taxi squad players must return to the alternate training site after each trip.
Contributing: Associated Press