Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MLB Mulls Reduced Travel for Umpires in COVID Season

When it comes to controlling the spread of COVID-19, umpires are undoubtedly MLB's weak link. In a normal year, umpires travel more than any team, walk through public airports, and take more commercial flights than any other on-field personnel. Consider that an umpire's average age is significantly higher than a player's, and umpires similarly are the most vulnerable uniformed characters in baseball to both contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

For this reason, Major League Baseball is reportedly considering mitigation strategies for its most exposed Tier 1 cohort that go above and beyond COVID testing and other measures already in store for players, coaches, and managers.

Some of MLB's potential plans for umps include:
> Umpire crews may be regionally based and drive whenever possible, as opposed to fly. This means a healthy dose of Los Angeles-to-Anaheim-to-San Diego and New York-to-New York-to-Philadelphia-to-Boston routes.
It is unclear whether MLB will seek to redraw the crews or simply distribute existing 2020 crews throughout the country (and, perhaps, Toronto...will Stu Scheurwater head up a permanent Canada crew?).
Related Post2020 MLB Umpire Crews (Delayed Season) (5/6/20).

> Crews may stay at one site for an entire homestand and not leave after every series.
> Umpires may stay at team hotels, as opposed to offsite at separate accomodations.
> Call-up umpires may be on standby as taxi squads, similar to MiLB players.
> MLB still has the option to forego Replay Review this year, but prefers to keep it in place.
> Face coverings may be encouraged but not required.

Joe West & Gerry Davis are nearing records.
And a confirmed rules change is already in the books:
> Umpires will have the authority to eject any player or manager who leaves his position to argue a call or instigate an altercation with a guideline of a six-foot socially distant circle.

UEFL rhetorical question: Will we see an increase in ejections or will players/coaches/managers respect MLB's guidelines?

Additionally, high-risk umpires may be offered paid opt-out options for health and safety concerns, likely with credit for service time.

For instance, Joe West, born on Halloween 1952, enters the 2020 season at the age of 67. Gerry Davis (February 22, 1953) is not too far behind. West and Davis comprise the senior-most members of the full-time umpire staff and both veterans are seeking to officiate milestone games in the not-too-distant future: Davis needs 43 regular or post-season games to achieve 5,000 MLB games worked and West is 60 regular season games short of all-time regular season games worked leader Bill Klem (5,370).

Coincidentally, West needs 60 regular season games and MLB's proposed 2020 season is exactly 60 regular season games in length. The question is whether West or other umpires would choose to opt out and try and set their respective records in 2021, presumably with fans in attendance.

Video as follows: