As MLB and the Players Association (MLBPA) negotiate the structure of the 2020 season they hope to begin in early July, details about what that season will look like continue to come to light. One of the most important matters is the suite of safety protocols that will be put into place to minimize -- to the greatest extent possible -- the spread of COVID-19 among players and team personnel.
On that front, MLB has presented to the MLBPA a 67-page proposal that includes numerous steps designed to keep players and other personnel as safe as possible during the 2020 season. Our own R.J. Anderson detailed.
This weekend, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted out another proposed change for 2020:
1 interesting item from MLB proposal: Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited. Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless a normal and permissible part of game action. Violations of these rules will result in severe discipline.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) May 16, 2020
Players who initiate and participate in brawls are already subject to ejection by the umpire and then perhaps fines and suspensions from the league, but this implies that those penalties will be stepped up in severity. Unlike so many other sports, an on-field fight in baseball is necessarily a mismatch at the outset (theoretically it's nine players in the field against one batter), so it's all but impossible to prevent the benches from the clearing and even the bullpens from emptying.
Since MLB will place a priority on maintaining as much social distancing as possible, ramped-up penalties for fighting certainly make sense.
Beyond this, there are of course legitimate concerns thatcould lead to an uptick in on-field "vigilantism," and this measure may on some level also be a response to those possibilities. Suffice it to say, a full-on brawl followed by a positive coronavirus test result from one of the principals could create season-compromising havoc. There's a debate to had over whether stiffer penalties could overcome the emotions of the moment, but MLB wants to err on the side of strong disincentives.