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Empty stands and no high-fives: Tigers, MLB open 2020 season with new rules and risks

entrance to Comerica Park
Wikimedia Commons
There won't be long lines of people streaming into Comerica Park in Detroit for the Tigers' home opener on Monday. Fans aren't allowed at Major League Baseball games during the shortened 60-game season.

One prediction about the Tigers' 2020 season is a sure thing. It will be like no other season baseball fans have ever seen. 

Detroit will play its first game of the shortened campaign Friday night in Cincinnati against the Reds.   

In addition to a schedule cut from 162 games to 60, the Tigers will be playing under a host of new rules designed to limit the spread of COVID-19. They include limited seating in the dugouts, and a ban on spitting and high-fives.

Michigan radio sports commentator John U. Bacon says MLB is getting it right when it comes to safety.

I will say that when you eliminate spitting from baseball, you are serious," Bacon says. "No showers after games ... is perilous, but hey." 

Calling the attempt to bring sports back safely during the pandemic "the Wild West," Bacon says MLB's new rules and the natural distance between most players on the field give baseball a better chance than basketball, hockey, and football at getting through the season without a shutdown.  

On the Tigers' plans for 2020

Detroit lost 114 games last season. They can't lose that many again in a shortened season, but they might still be bad.

Bacon believes the most exciting player to watch this summer isn't on the Tigers' major league roster. The Tigers have assigned pitcher Casey Mize to the minors. Mize was the first pick of the 2018 MLB draft.  

“He looks fantastic. And he looks so good and the Tigers are so bad, let’s move him down to Toledo for the start of the season.”

"I will say that when you eliminate spitting from baseball, you are serious." - John U. Bacon

Although the Tigers haven't said so publicly, Bacon believes the team Detroit made that decision for two reasons.

“One is the Tigers actually want to lose,” he says. “It worked very well last year. They finished dead last. They want to do it again. They're still pretty bad. So they want to lose again and get, therefore, the highest draft pick at the end of the season. And also, cynically, they don't want Casey Mize to qualify as a free agent in 2025. And the later his major league clock starts, the later he becomes a free agent.”

Crowd noise without the crowds

Following the lead of some of Europe's top soccer leagues, MLB is pumping artificial crowd noise into stadiums, which have no crowds because of coronavirus safety rules.

Fans will then hear that artificial noise on broadcasts of games. There’s also an app that lets fans send a boo or cheer, so that sound board operators can play fake boos or cheers accordingly.

Bacon says it’s bizarre, but necessary.

“I'm against artificial noise, but in this case, you have to have something,” he says. “It’s just too weird. As far as the home P.A. person pumping in boos to the home team, I don't think that's going to happen, but go ahead and try.”

As baseball begins, a setback in college football

Michigan State University put its football workouts on hold after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The Spartans had been preparing for their first 20-hour training week of the summer. That would have meant more players and coaches being together than in earlier workouts.

Bacon thinks the odds of a college football season this fall are very slim.  

“And this is a staff member,” he says. “Wait until you get the students on campus. Once the bars open, the dorms, the house parties and so on, this thing is going to get pretty crazy pretty fast.”

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John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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