Baseball is back, though ‘‘back-ish’’ might be a better way to put it.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached an accord on safety protocols and health Tuesday, clearing a key — and, for the moment, final — hurdle before players formally accepted MLB’s request to report to training camps by July 1 for a potential 2020 season.
‘‘All remaining issues have been resolved and players are reporting to training camps,’’ the MLBPA said in a tweet that instantly pinballed around Twitter to the relief and delight of many fans.
A 60-game regular season will begin July 23 or July 24 in empty ballparks. That’s assuming, of course, that the sport can get from here to there without unforeseen coronavirus-related issues pushing things off the rails.
Thirty MLB teams will be split into three 10-team divisions grouped regionally, with five teams from the American League and five from the National League. Teams will play each traditional division opponent 10 times and each ‘‘interleague’’ opponent four times.
The White Sox and Cubs will be together in a division, joined by the rest of the AL Central and NL Central teams. The Sox and Cubs will be scheduled for only one trip to each of the cities they visit.
In the meantime, with concerns about the coronavirus that shut down the sport in March still hovering over the game, players are planning to be in their respective team cities next week to prepare for what would be an unprecedented shortened season. A normal schedule is 162 games covering approximately six months. This season will go about two months, with 10 teams participating in the postseason, as usual.
Other changes include a universal designated hitter for the 2020 season and a minor-league rule for extra innings in which a runner will be placed at second base to expedite the game — in regular-season games only. Taxing rosters, particularly pitching, is at play.
Also, the new three-batter minimum for pitchers still stands, and pitchers, to avoid licking their fingers because of health reasons, will be allowed to carry a wet rag in a pocket, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com.
Cotillo also said managers, coaches and other non-playing personnel will wear masks, lineup cards won’t be exchanged with umpires before games and spitting will be prohibited (but chewing gum is allowed). Also, ‘‘fights are strictly prohibited.’’
The exciting thing about a 60-game regular season is that most teams will have the potential to play well enough in a tight window to contend for a postseason berth. The Cubs and Sox certainly have that potential.
Asterisks, though, will be unavoidable. It’s difficult to imagine a winning record or even a World Series title going down in the history books as having been as legitimate as those accomplished in normal years. The same can be said of individual award winners. And what about record-breakers? What if a batter hits .407, a point better than Ted Williams’ iconic .406 average in 1941?
But those are problems the sport must be happy to have at this point, after weeks of intense acrimony between MLB and the union played out to terrible reviews in the court of public opinion. At least the sounds of bats cracking and gloves pounding will be heard at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field soon.
As for rosters, teams likely will be required to submit a list of up to 60 players, including their 40-man rosters and add-ons that will be eligible during the season. Players not on the 30-man Opening Day roster will go on a taxi squad.
The active rosters will be cut from 30 to 28 after two weeks and to 26 after four weeks, according to reports.