Let’s say on opening night at Nationals Park this happens: Bottom of the fifth, the Nationals’ Trea Turner hits a pop to short left field. Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner charges in, shortstop Gleyber Torres goes out.
The two defenders have the descending ball surrounded. Torres twists and turns and then the ball hits inside Torres’ glove and falls to the ground. Turner checks in at second base.
Is that a double or a two-base error?
Normally, the official scorer, sitting behind home plate in the press box, would make that call via a microphone to media members. But, in a season with a coronavirus, that decision will be made elsewhere in Virginia, Maryland or D.C., or wherever the official scorer lives in the area.
Welcome to pandemic baseball.
Major League Baseball thinks that the fewer people who are in the ballpark, the safer it will be. So, the approximately 90 scorers, who are part-time employees of MLB and its 30 teams, will work from their homes.
It’s not ideal, but the scorekeepers will have technological help.
MLB has equipped the scorekeepers with a computer program that gives them replays from several feeds and a full-field camera angle, allowing them to see the entire field, the base runners, the fielders’ positioning, whatever a scorer needs.
Scorekeepers will also have access to a chat room where they can talk to someone at the yard - say the worker who monitors the time between innings - to hear information about substitutes and relay their scoring decisions to the media.
Players can appeal scoring decisions, and usually two or three on average get challenged across the two leagues every day. It’s fair to ask if scorers working from home will bring the same amount - or even more - challenges from players.
As the revised baseball season begins this week with a 60-game schedule, shortest in MLB history, it is obvious to say that baseball will not look the same.
There will be empty stands, fake crowd noise, expanded 30-man rosters for the first two weeks and uniformed players and coaches wearing masks. There are no minor league seasons, and for big league teams, it will be a season when every team is in first place in late July.
When was the last time that happened?
Here’s a look at changes:
Experimental rule: When a game goes extras, each team will start every half inning with a runner on second and no outs. The rule says the runner has to be the batter who made the last out in the previous inning, but a manager can put in a pinch-runner. The rule is intended to keep games as short as possible for safety reasons.
There is no official scoring notation to explain how the runner wound up on second base, but if said runner scores, a pitcher will not be charged with an earned run. However, if the pitcher gives up additional runs, his ERA will rise.
The rule has been used in the minor leagues for two seasons to save pitchers’ arms.
Baseball America, a publication of the minor leagues, says the rule shortens games. In 2016 and 2017, minor league games ended after the first extra inning 45 percent of time. With the rule in place for 2018 and 2019, games ended after the first extra 73 percent of the time.
DH history: For the first time in history, the National League will use the designated hitter during the regular season. Because the Nationals’ game Thursday is the first NL game of 2020, the player who is their DH will join Ron Blomberg as a historical note. In 1973, Blomberg of the Yankees became the first DH when he batted against Boston’s Luis Tiant. The DH will not be used in the NL in 2021, but given that NL pitchers hit .127 last season, there will be a push in the new Basic Agreement for 2022 to make it permanent in the NL.
Three-batter rule: There’s so much going on with the coronavirus that we forget the new rule that says relief pitchers have to face three batters before coming out of the game. The idea is to speed up the game. No one - certainly not younger fans - likes to see a constant parade of relief pitchers throw to one batter and then leave the game. Is it tedious? Maybe, but MLB has a legitimate concern with the average time of game lasting 3:05:35 last season.
Foul ball: Fans will not be allowed into games, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t get a foul ball, at least in Oakland. The Athletics have a promotion that allows fans to pay to have their picture on a cardboard cutout that will be placed in foul-ball territory. If a foul ball hits a fan’s cutout, that fan will be mailed the ball. The money goes to charity.
Distancing disagreement: Baseball arguments - the kind where managers would go nose-to-nose with an umpire - are becoming obsolete, especially with replay. Disagreeing with an umpire can still happen this season, but the player risks ejection and MLB discipline if he comes within six feet of the umpire.
Fake crowd noise: Players generally like the piped-in crowd noise. The fake crowd noise might seem new, but it isn’t. According to the Los Angeles Times, legendary radio broadcaster Vin Scully, now 92, used fake crowd noise broadcasting a Dodgers spring-training game in the Bahamas in 1968. He didn’t go to the game and called the play-by-play from the Dodgers’ camp in Vero Beach, Fla. A Dodgers publicist called in descriptions to a staffer who typed them and relayed them to Scully. The broadcast had cheering noise from previous games.
BP baseballs: Baseballs for batting practice will be used for one day at a time. Then, they will be scrubbed down and stored for five days before they are used again. And, if more than one player touches a baseball during a game, the ball will be tossed out of play. Also, MLB would feel better if infielders didn’t throw the ball around the horn after an out.
High-fives: Congratulatory high-fives aren’t supposed to happen, but habits aren’t easy to break. MLB has seen high-fives in exhibition games and has talked to clubs about reminding their players not to do it.
Get it yourself: It is a tradition of the sport that when a player makes the last out of inning, he can wait on the field for a teammate to bring him his cap and glove. That’s not happening this season. Now, the player who makes the last out has to go to the dugout and pick up his own gear.
Media stories: If it seems beat reporters are filing game stories quoting the same players, you would be correct. In pre-pandemic days, reporters would have pre-game clubhouse time for about an hour, talking one-on-one to players and collecting thoughts for exclusive angles in stories. This season, reporters have access to players and the manager, but only through Zoom on their computers. Players are in separate rooms and reporters, not allowed in the clubhouse, watch on their computers from the press box or at home.
Lonely broadcasters: Thanks to physical distancing and plenty of space, radio and TV broadcasters across both leagues will work with Plexiglas walls between them. Broadcast partners will be in separate booths on different levels, so they won’t even see each other. Broadcasters for road games will work from extra television screens in the booth at their home park.
“It’s going to be a challenge,’’ says Eric Nadel, who does radio play-by-play for the Texas Rangers. “The ability to see the whole ballpark and describing things is the key to doing the job well, whether or not the ball is in play. We are used to seeing everything that’s happening on the field.”
In a normal broadcast, “I’ll glance at the monitor once in a while to see if the monitor gives you an interesting shot in the dugout, but I don’t call the game off the monitor,” Nadel says. “I call the game off looking on the field 90 percent of the time. It’s going to be a big adjustment and I don’t think the broadcasts are going to be as good, but I think everybody understands. We will do the best that we can, and I know teams are doing everything to keep it safe.’‘
BBWAA Awards: Some things don’t change: The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) will vote on four postseason awards: MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year. The writers handed out awards in 1981, when there was a work stoppage midseason, and again in 1994, when labor strife ended the season two months early with no World Series. For the record, Kansas City’s David Cone won the American League Cy Young while Atlanta’s Greg Maddux was the NL winner in 1994. The AL MVP in 1981 was Milwaukee pitcher Rollie Fingers, while the NL MVP was Mike Schmidt of the Phillies.