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No spitting, no showering: MLB introduces new rules for shortened season

The 120-page safety guide issued by MLB includes rules like players having to sit in the stands, pitchers prevented from licking their fingers and no chewing tobacco.
/ Source: TODAY

It will be a whole different ballgame next month when Major League Baseball gets set to play a shortened season during the pandemic.

There is no crying in baseball, but this year there will also be no spitting, no chewing tobacco, no fans in the stands, no pitchers licking their fingers and no showering in the clubhouse, among many changes.

St. Louis at Chicago Cubs
Pitchers, like the Cardinals' Dakota Hudson (above), will no longer be able to lick their fingers to improve their grip on the ball under the new MLB rules during the pandemic. Chicago Tribune / Getty Images

MLB has unveiled a 120-page safety guide featuring a host of new protocols as it prepares to play a 60-game season beginning July 24, attempting to keep everyone safe while playing a team sport in the age of the coronavirus.

Most players will not be allowed to sit in the dugout and some will sit in the stands, spaced apart in different rows, because there will be no fans in attendance anyway. Players and umpires are required to stay 6 feet apart when possible, even during the national anthem before the game.

The idle spitting that often characterizes downtime during the game will be prohibited along with chewing tobacco, but players will be allowed to chew gum. Health experts say that respiratory droplets are one of the main ways that the coronavirus is spread.

Pitchers will not be allowed to lick their fingers on the mound like they normally would to gain a tighter grip on the ball. Every time a ball is touched by multiple players, it will be removed from the game. Pitchers also have to bring their own rosin bag to the mound.

They also will have to restrain themselves during euphoric moments, as celebrations like dumping Gatorade on teammates after a game-winning home run or slapping a shaving cream pie in a teammate's face during a postgame television interview are banned.

The guide also features rules for off the field, including lockers being at least 6 feet apart and no showering allowed in the clubhouse. Players are also prohibited from using hotel swimming pools, and their meals are restricted to room service.

Travel will be limited by having teams only play opponents from their own division and the corresponding division from the opposite league, like the New York Mets only playing teams from the National League East and the American League East, for example.

The travel for games stands in contrast to the resumption of the NBA, which plans to resume its season in late July with 22 of its teams playing all games in one city at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Players also can expect regular coronavirus testing before they can attend "summer training," the resumption of spring training that will begin in the lead-up to the proposed start of the regular season in late July. They also will be tested throughout the season with temperature checks and COVID-19 tests, a diagnostic PCR test and a blood-drawn antibody test.

MLB is not the first professional baseball league to get underway during the pandemic, as the Korea Baseball Organization in South Korea opened its season last month. The KBO also has had no fans at the games, coaches wearing masks, and even a boy in a bubble "throwing out" a ceremonial first pitch.

The safety changes in MLB come as 12 Philadelphia Phillies players and staffers and three Colorado Rockies players have recently tested positive for the coronavirus, including four-time Rockies All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon, according to The Denver Post.

Coronavirus cases across the country have risen to the highest level they have ever been since the beginning of the pandemic. The U.S. saw a record 45,557 diagnoses reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News, with surges occurring in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona, which all have at least one MLB team.