DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I know there are a lot of concerns, serious concerns, about safety. But I still can't help be excited about this. Baseball is really coming back this year. Major League Baseball and its players union yesterday announced that they have reached an agreement to play a shorter 60-game regular season. Players are going to be reporting for spring training by July 1, with opening day scheduled for July 23 or 24. Now, disagreements over money and safety delayed the return of America's pastime. And let's talk about what's happening here with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So baseball is back, but it is not going to look like the baseball we're used to, it sounds like.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Baseball is a marathon - as you know, in normal years, 162 games from spring to the front edges of winter. 2020 baseball regular season is going to be a sprint - a 60 game schedule, as you mentioned, which the union still has to review. Games largely will be against division foes. They're regionally close, so that cuts down on travel. And for the first time since 1973, when the designated hitter started batting for pitchers in the American League, now there'll be a DH in the National League, too. Extra-inning games will start with a runner on second base. Sounds a little like Little League, doesn't it?
GREENE: Sure does. Weird.
GOLDMAN: But this is a health and safety measure to prevent super long games. Teams don't want a bunch of exhausted players with a season jammed into a very short schedule. And then pandemic rules include pitchers having to bring their own rosin bag to the mound. And, reportedly, they can carry a small wet rag in their pocket they can use instead of licking their fingers.
GREENE: Wow. What a new reality here.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Try to train them to do that, right?
GREENE: Yeah. So remind us why this all took so long to come to a deal here?
GOLDMAN: There were long and acrimonious negotiations over money and the number of games to be played. Players wanted more games so they could make more money because their salaries were already going to be greatly reduced. Owners wanted fewer games. After all that, the two sides never agreed. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally imposed the season. He had the power to do that. And so players are going back to work but are not overjoyed, and they might file a grievance to try to reclaim up to a billion dollars in pay.
GREENE: I mean, obviously, some of these changes are meant to keep players safe. It's a really short season. Can you talk about some of the pluses and minuses of - in all this?
GOLDMAN: Sure. You actually start with every team having a chance. You know, every year, they say in spring training, everyone has a chance; this time they really have a chance if they can put together a hot streak in this very short regular season. Conversely, a slow-starting team won't have time to rebound. Exhibit A, David, the Washington Nationals last year, after 50 games, they were 19-31. Of course, they surged from that point on. That's now legendary. They went on to win the World Series.
GREENE: So, Tom, what do fans think of all of this?
GOLDMAN: You know, some are thrilled. You sounded thrilled.
GOLDMAN: Sports fans are very good at forgiving and forgetting and just getting caught up in the games. Others are angry about players and owners battling while the world has been fraying with a pandemic and protests in the street and huge unemployment. And it's left some fans saying, a pox on both your houses, to players and owners. Even if you are the excited fan, the coronavirus is surging. And Milwaukee pitcher Brett Anderson's tweet this week can't be ignored. Referring to the virus, he said, what happens when we all get it? And I don't think even the health and safety manual they'll be using, which is over 100 pages, has an answer for that.
GREENE: OK. So baseball is back. NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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