Last updated 2/23/2021 at 8:18pm
The unusual blast of wintry weather prevented our newspaper from hitting the streets last week, although my column got to those I e-mail and the others appearing on our website.
However, I’ve been writing this column for more than a half century, and last Monday was the first time in my career that I did it with several inches of snow on the ground, icicles hanging from the window awnings, the daytime temperature hovering around 20 degrees and the wind chill hitting single digits.
I can just imagine the Global Warming crowd hightailed it back to their closets until this cold wave ended last weekend.
Ironically, major league baseball’s spring training began last week for all 30 teams either at Florida (Grapefruit League) or Arizona (Cactus League) with the idea of training for six weeks and playing a normal 162-game schedule for 2021.
Last year’s shortened 60-game schedule used some new ideas to quicken games and enhance the post-season playoffs, with some being used in 2021 while others were rejected by the player’s association.
In another change, MLB has slightly deadened its baseballs amid a years-long surge in home runs. MLB has cited an independent lab that found the new balls will fly 1 to 2 feet shorter when hit over 375 feet.
A record 6,776 homers were hit during the regular 2019 season and the rate fell only slightly during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season—from 6.6 percent of plate appearances resulting in homers in 2019 to 6.5 percent last year.
And several of the health protocols put in place last season will be monitored much more stringently with violators being hit where it hurts most—their pocketbooks.
Major League Baseball and the Players Association met recently and approved health and safety protocols for the 2021 MLB season, according to an article appearing in the Houston Chronicle last week.
Highlight of the meeting was a new league-wide code of conduct that prohibits many high-risk activities outside the ball park.
Failure to abide by the code of conduct could result in suspension or forfeiture of salary, according to a league announcement.
During spring training, the code of conduct forbids players and on-field staff from dining indoors at restaurants, frequenting gyms, casinos or bars and attending any gathering of 10 or more people.
Players must serve a five-day quarantine at their homes before reporting to Florida or Arizona for their six-week stay in spring training and that’s why many players are still missing from their training sites.
In-take testing, which includes a temperature check, PCR test and a rapid antibody test began last week.
Teams had until last Friday to submit a list of up to 75 players who were invited to spring training. Players can be added throughout camp, but the roster can never exceed 75.
During the regular season, players are allowed to leave their team hotel on the road only if given permission by a club compliance officer. They are allowed to step outside for “low-risk outdoor activities,” exercise or outdoor dining if it is approved by the team.
Most on-field rules, adjustments and restrictions were carried over from the 60-game season in 2020, including seven-inning doubleheaders and starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
“The universal designated hitter will not be implemented, and the post-season is scheduled to contain 10 teams—reverting back to the pre-pandemic structure. Teams can have a 26-man opening-day roster that can expand to 28 in September.
“They can still carry a five-man taxi squad on road trips in case of a COVID-19 emergency,” the article continued.
MLB and the Players Association said they would revisit the rules periodically “to consider whether enhancements or relaxations of certain protocols are appropriate based on experience or changes in circumstances.”
Masks are required at all times in club facilities or in the dugout except for players who are warming up or in the game.
All players and staff will wear Kinexon contact tracing devices—a new wrinkle in 2021 that could better identify close contacts. The NFL and NBA have used similar devices during their seasons.
Players who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Close contacts to a positive case face a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Players and other on-field staff will be tested “at least every other day” throughout spring training and the regular season Houston Astros 71-year-old manager Dusty Baker received his final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine more than two weeks ago and says that “nothing changes” in regard to Major League Baseball’s rigorous health and safety protocols during spring training, according to Monday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle.
“I’m still pretending like I didn’t get my shots,” Baker said Sunday. “I have my mask on and social distancing. “You just can’t let your guard down, because there’s still so much about it that we don’t know.”
The Centers for Disease Control still recommends mask-wearing, social distancing and hand washing for those who’ve received two doses of the vaccine.
KWICKIES…LeBron James can do just about anything very well on a basketball court, including faking a foul. However, he has been warned by the NBA for violating the “Anti-Flopping Rule” and should take his acting prowess to Hollywood.
Daniel Berger rallied to regain his early lead and won the PGA Tour Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago. Strangely, there were no amateurs or fans for this year’s event due to COVID-19.
And last weekend Max Homa almost disappointed his hometown of Los Angeles where the PGA Tour Genesis Invitational was held. Homa had the tourney wrapped up until he missed a three-foot putt on the 72nd hole and forced a playoff with Tony Finau. But Homa won on the second playoff hole when Finau failed to make a par. It was the eighth time Finau finished a tournament as the runner-up in the last five seasons. He has finished in the Top Ten 37 times –more than double over any other player without a win over that span.
And while on the subject of golf, Tiger Woods has been noncommittal about playing in the upcoming Masters in April, depending on how his back heals. Tiger had his fifth back procedure since 2014. He is rehabbing now and will have an MRI before he is cleared to do more.
Deion Sanders won his college coaching debut at Jackson State last weekend, but the happiness didn’t last very long after he had some items stolen while coaching. The school promised that the security protocol will be reviewed.
The Philadelphia Eagles finally got rid of high-dollar quarterback Carson Wentz by trading him to the Indianapolis Colts for third round and conditional second round picks.
JUST BETWEEN US…According to ESPN’s Ed Werder recently, there are at least 12 teams who have expressed an interest in J.J. Watt after he was released by mutual consent by the Houston Texans. The top choice is the Pittsburgh Steelers where J.J. can join his two brothers, but J.J. wants a Super Bowl ring and Ben Roethlisberger cannot produce a Super Bowl season like Tom Brady did for Tampa Bay. In fact, First Take host Stephen A. Smith said recently that Tampa Bay is exactly where J.J. should turn to win that coveted ring in 2021. Money is not nearly as important as a Super Bowl ring as far as J.J. is concerned.