Saturday, July 18, 2020

MLB Protective Gear, Masks for Umpires Stirs Debate

Major League Baseball has encouraged, but will not require, umpires to wear face coverings or masks, setting off a de facto personal preference debate of what to wear, if anything.

MLB will also develop face shields for the home plate umpire who works in proximity to catchers and batters. According to The Athletic, MLB is testing the shields to make sure they are shatterproof.

MLB's masks optional policy splits the difference between South Korea's KBO and Taiwan's CPBL, the former which requires umpires to wear masks and gloves while the latter carries no such mandate.

A majority of umpires in Spring Training 2.0 have worn various measures of protective equipment.

For instance, Carlos Torres was photographed in Atlanta wearing a face covering, as were the trio of Washington, DC assignees—David Rackley, Chris Segal, and Larry Vanover (though Vanover did not appear to wear a face covering during his plate job Saturday evening)—and New York officials Sean Barber and Roberto Ortiz at Yankee Stadium. At Dodger Stadium, Ryan Blakney wore a white face covering underneath his black-padded traditional facemask.

In San Francisco, the simple act of umpires wearing face coverings contributed to feelings of good will with the Giants ball club.

Giants Manager Gabe Kapler recently praised the two umpires assigned to train in San Francisco—Doug Eddings and MLBUA President Bill Miller—for donning face coverings when offered, perhaps offering a glimpse into a new subtle way to build rapport and improve game management in the age of coronavirus: "Bill and Doug, I give them a ton of credit because they're super humble and open, and so our training staff had a few extra very, very comfortable masks and those guys did a great job. They were open to giving these masks a try and I think everybody on the field was proud of that."

In New York (Mets), HP Umpire Ryan Additon and base umpire CB Bucknor carried small bottles of hand sanitizer attached to their belts.

And when Clint Frazier hit his home run Saturday evening in Queens while wearing a face covering, home plate umpire Jose Navas was right behind him wearing his own fabric cover.

In all, most umpires throughout the league have worn some degree of protection during MLB's preseason restart.
Related Post2020 MLB Summer Camp (Spring) Roster (7/15/20).

Having questioned COVID case calculations while later clarifying his belief that the virus itself is very real even if case or death statistics may suffer from inflation, Joe West, along with fellow crew chief Mark Wegner in Tampa Bay, recently adopted the plastic face shield prototype MLB hopes to use throughout the 2020 season; West initially wore blue medical gloves and, like Wegner, wore a surgical-style mask underneath his facemask, but switched to the face shield Thursday after it arrived mid-game to Tropicana Field.

In Kansas City, Todd Tichenor, who wore a white face covering behind a catcher who also wore a mask, told Yahoo! Sports, "I want to make it work," explaining he'd do his best to mask up while admitting there might be times, perhaps out of habit, when he might inadvertently remove it: "Sometimes I let it slip from my nose. That was the tough part, was keeping the full mask on. I kinda just told myself, if I can do that 80 percent of the time, maybe I'm saving somebody 80 percent of the time."

In June, the World Baseball Softball Confederation shared a photograph of a catcher/umpire's mask with plastic shield. When umpiring legend Perry Barber asked why cover just the nose and mouth and leave the eyes exposed (as a mucous membrane, the eyes are susceptible to viral transmission [reception]), WBSC's response ("no screen in eye area here to avoid any interference with visibility due to reflection, lights, etc") portrayed the ultimate dilemma in a COVID restart: safety vs functionality.

Silver Lining: One hot-button issue not being discussed whatsoever? Switching to a computerized strike zone or automated ball/strike system that would remove an umpire from the field.

The extent to which baseball will go to arm its umpires with protective equipment should indicate, with all of baseball's chatter relative to robot umpires, the value of keeping human umpires involved and on the field.

Sidebar: Speaking of arming umpires, Rob Drake, in Oakland, was pictured Thursday not wearing a face covering on the bases while plate umpire Gabe Morales wore both a covering and blue gloves (as did Brian Knight the day before). MLB's face covering policy seems very much to rely on personal preference.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: MLB Protective Gear, Masks for Umpires Stirs Debate (CCS)


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