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No Spitting: MLB Unveils Some New Rules Due To The Coronavirus

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles stands empty in an aerial view from late May. Games will resume in late July.
Bing Guan
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles stands empty in an aerial view from late May. Games will resume in late July.

Major League Baseball is officially coming back this summer after a delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but aspects of the game will look a little different.

MLB announced Mondaythat it would shift some of its in-game rules, making significant and historic changes.

Many of those rule changes were made with concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in mind, including a threat of immediate ejection if a player or coach comes within 6 feet of an umpire or opponent in the course of an argument.

There's also a ban on spitting, which many baseball players do conspicuously. Spitting, "including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds or peanut shells, or tobacco," is prohibited.

Other measures to limit the spread of the virus include asking pitchers to carry a small wet rag instead of licking their fingers for moisture, ordering teams to provide expanded dugout and bullpen space, and instructing all participants to practice general social distancing.

Fielders are also "encouraged to retreat several steps away" from the base runner when the ball is out of play.

The league has also tweaked game play rules in other ways, including some that are intended to speed up the game.

The National League, which represents half of the MLB's teams, will allow teams to use designated hitters for the first time ever. That means another player can bat in place of the pitcher. The American League has had this rule in place for decades.

If a game goes into extra innings, teams will start each half-inning with a runner on second base — a move that will likely lead to more scoring when teams are tied after nine innings. Also, any player may appear as a pitcher at any point in the game.

While players will report to their respective training camps Wednesday, the shortened, 60-game regular season is not set to begin until July 23 or 24. Some details still need to be worked out between the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Austin Horn is a 2019-2020 Kroc Fellow. He joined NPR after internships at the San Antonio Express-News and Frankfort State-Journal, as well as a couple stints in the service industry. He aims to keep his reporting grounded in the experience of real individuals of all stripes.
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