If you can’t turn a double play safely, should baseball really return?

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By WEEI 93.7

6-4-3.

In Little League, that numerical combination marks a truly noteworthy play surely worthy of a postgame trip to the ice cream stand.

As players rise up the ranks and skill levels, it’s a potential inning-saving execution worthy of at least a nod of appreciation from the pitcher.

But in the current world of the coronavirus that controls nearly every aspect of our lives, the old-fashioned 6-4-3 double play is apparently more worthy of angst than celebration and, according to the 67-page rundown of guidelines for Major League Baseball’s proposed return to play, necessitates a new baseball be put in play.

A plan that clearly strives for an overabundance of caution to ensure player safety is about as detailed as can be. Aside from players actually wearing masks while on the field, MLB is proposing just about every other safety protocol that anyone might come up with.

New baseballs every time it’s touched by two or more people. (Whether that includes a pitcher throwing a strike that’s returned by the catcher is unclear, exactly.)

No spitting, high-fives, fist-bumps or hugging are allowed.

No fighting.

No pitchers licking their fingers.

Players are asked to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer every half-inning, so some 18 times or more in a single game.

Wash your hands regularly, but not your body as showering after the game at the facility is discouraged.

Players must distance themselves when at all possible, including on the field and in interactions between baserunners and fielders.

All these game-specific rules are in addition to strict measures regarding players being tested regularly, having routine temperature checks and extremely specific travel/living guidelines.

Which begs the question, if things are so bad that a new ball must be put in play when a routine play involving two or more fielders is made, is the risk of a return to action actually greater than the reward?

It has to be a question in the minds of at least some players – those not totally fixated merely on the finances of the issue and the billionaires vs. millionaires battle of the boardroom – and maybe even some of those on the business side of things.

We all want sports back. That’s a given.

Baseball has a grand opportunity with its plan to possibly return to the field on 4th of July weekend. It would give an economic boost to some – even without fans – and a morale boost to many, many more.

But if the health and safety risk – both to individual players, managers and staff as well as the community as a whole – is so great that a simple 6-4-3 double play can’t be turned without a new ball being put in play and players busting out their hand sanitizer, is it really worth it?

Oh, and how exactly are all these strict rules going to be enforced?

If I high-five a teammate after a great play, am I suspended?

If I spit on the field – as I’ve been doing out of pure habit for multiple decades in the sport since those days of postgame ice cream fun – do I get a fine on top of my pay reduction?

Baseball should be trying to come back, just as all sports should.

MLB is like the rest of the world in that there seem to be way more questions, cautions and concerns right now than there are answers.

If baseball does return, let’s all hope there are a lot of strikeouts, homeruns and pop-outs. It’ll just be safer for everyone involved.