NEW YORK: Major League Baseball (MLB) Tuesday announced an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) on an enhanced set of health and safety protocols for the 2021 season that adopts current best practices in addition to those in place during the successful 2020 season and reflects the recommendations of the parties’ consulting medical experts and infectious disease specialists.
The enhanced 2021 Operations Manual will apply during Spring Training, the Championship Season and the Postseason, and also includes a one-year continuation of seven-inning doubleheaders and the modified extra innings rule during the 2020 championship season. Spring Training presented by Camping World begins on Wednesday, February 17th.
“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. 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.”
Highlights of the 2021 health and safety protocols, which are fully documented in the comprehensive Operations Manual that has been distributed to the 30 Major League Clubs, include:
Health and Safety Procedures
[** notes new for 2021 season]
A Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee composed of one MLB and MLBPA representative and two physicians will continue to manage day-to-day oversight of the Monitoring and Testing Plan along with other aspects of the health and safety protocols.
Each Club must submit a written COVID-19 Action Plan in consultation with its medical staff and government health authorities for approval by the Joint Committee. Each club will appoint an Infection Control Prevention Coordinator and a Compliance Officer (Assistant GM or above in seniority) who will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance of all health and safety protocols contained in the Operations Manual. Clubs are subject to discipline for failure to monitor and enforce compliance.**
Intake Screening (which may begin up to three days prior to a player’s voluntary report date) will include a mandatory five-day at-home quarantine prior to reporting to Spring Training (with the exception of performing essential activities or for approved individual outdoor exercise and workouts) followed by diagnostic/PCR and antibody/serology testing. Individuals must self-quarantine and may not access Club facilities until their Intake Screening results are reported.**
Frequent PCR testing will be administered by the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory on saliva samples collected via the Spectrum Solutions SDNA-100 saliva collection kits. Players and other on-field personnel will continue be tested at least every other day throughout Spring Training, the 2021 Championship Season, and (as applicable) the postseason. Daily symptom screens and temperature checks will be recorded at least twice daily. As a supplement to routine Monitoring Testing, accurate and reliable point-of-care testing will also be available to all Clubs at home and on the road.
Individuals who test positive will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days, receive appropriate care and monitoring from the Club medical staff, and be cleared by the Joint Committee and the individual’s team physician, following a mandatory cardiac evaluation and a determination that the individual no longer presents a risk of infection to others.
We are expanding access to voluntary COVID-19 testing for family and household members of Covered Individuals and are planning to utilize improved point-of-care testing options to supplement the regular saliva-based PCR testing from last season. Additionally, MLB will continue to offer charitable testing for healthcare workers, first responders, youth organizations and other members of MLB communities as a public service.**
Mental Health and Well-Being Resources will be provided to players and Club staff by Clubs and the parties throughout Spring Training and the 2021 Championship Season.**
We have added a new league-wide Code of Conduct prohibiting certain high-risk activities outside the ballpark:
o For Spring Training, Championship Season and postseason, Covered Individuals may not attend indoor gatherings of 10 or more people, indoor restaurants, bars and lounges, fitness and wellness centers, entertainment venues, gaming venues (e.g., casinos) or any other activity that is prohibited by state or local governments.**
o For Spring Training, Covered Individuals and any members of their household must quarantine at home with the exception of Club-directed baseball activities at Club facilities, travel with the team, individual outdoor physical activity, outdoor dining (if approved by the Joint Committee), and performing essential activities (e.g., medical care).**
o For the Championship Season, Covered Individuals during road trips are not permitted to leave the hotel other than for team activities at the team facility or ballpark, other than for medical reasons, outdoor walks/exercise, outdoor dining (if approved by the Joint Committee), or for other low-risk outdoor activities, or in extraordinary circumstances. Members of the traveling party must notify a Club Compliance Officer before leaving the hotel. **
o Covered Individuals may not meet with anyone not part of the Traveling Party, whether at the team hotel, in their individual hotel room, or elsewhere, other than being permitted to meet household or family members outdoors. Covered individuals may not congregate in areas of the hotel, or enter the hotel room of another member of the Traveling Party for any reason, unless approved in advance by the Club’s Compliance Officer.**
o Any Covered Individuals who are found to have violated the Code of Conduct are subject to potential discipline, including suspension or forfeiture of salary for days spent away from the Club while in mandatory self-isolation or quarantine resulting from the violation.**
We made significant changes to the contact tracing process to reflect changes in guidance from the CDC and medical experts, as well as our experience and the experience of other leagues over the past year:
o Kinexon contact tracing devices must be worn at all times while in Club facilities, during Club-directed travel, and while engaged in team activities including group workouts and practices.**
o Each Club must designate a Contact Tracing Officer responsible for overseeing the Club’s contact tracing processes.**
o Each club must designate a Contact Tracing Working Group, including a medical professional with experience in infectious disease, responsible for identifying and reporting close contacts.**
A Covered Individual who has been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of seven days and must test negative on day 5 or later among other requirements to rejoin Club facilities**. Additional monitoring precautions for individuals who are not designated as close contacts will also be required.****
Face coverings must be properly worn at all times when in Club facilities and in the dugout, other than for players on the field during a game or during pre-game warmups. Each club will appoint at least one Facemask
Enforcement Officer and automatic fines will be issued for non-compliance during games, with fines collected donated to charity.**
There will be no pre-game exchange of lineup cards. Instead, each Club will input their lineup card into a mobile application provided by MLB.
MLB and MLBPA will revisit the health and safety protocols throughout the season to consider whether enhancements or relaxations of certain protocols are appropriate based on experience or changes in circumstances.
On-Field Playing Rules
Any doubleheaders scheduled in connection with the 2021 Championship Season will consist of two seven-innings games.
The modified extra-innings rule employed during the 2020 season (i.e., each extra half-inning will begin with a runner on second base) will also be in effect for the upcoming season.
Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in OBR 4.03(c) or MLR 2(b)(2), any player may appear as a pitcher at any point during the game (i.e., no extra inning requirements or six-run rule). However, all players eligible to participate in the game, regardless of position, must be included on that game’s lineup card.
Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field. In this respect, players and managers should maintain physical distancing from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible. Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.
· The Active Roster limit will revert to 26 (expanding to 28 in September), but the limit on the number of pitchers on the Active Roster at any given time has been waived for this season.
· We have also agreed to allow any Clubs that experience a COVID-19 outbreak among their players to add to the Major League Active List temporarily, without the need for those players to be placed on waivers, outrighted, or optioned in order to be removed from the 40-man roster when players return from the COVID-19 Related Injured List.
· A Club is permitted to carry up to five additional Taxi Squad players on all road trips with the Major League team. If the Club elects to carry five additional players, at least one must be a player whose designated position prior to the season is catcher. Players on the Taxi Squad are permitted to workout with the Major League Club but are not permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games. Upon the conclusion of each road trip, players on the Taxi Squad will return to the Alternate Training Site.