David Chao, MD: Baseball Is Back, How Will Covid Impact The Game?

Play ball! 

Those words will not be uttered by a cute kid as part of a pregame promotion, but they will be music to the ears of many. After much consternation between the owners and players, a limited 60 game schedule starts today with no fans at any ballpark.

Honestly, it is about time they started. 

COVID is real and we need to be careful but baseball is one of the more socially distanced sports. Certainly, cross country, surfing and golf are less risky but Major League Baseball and its risk is far less than football, basketball or hockey. Given the outdoor nature (even indoors at a MLB park with the ample air exchange) and the spacing to play the game, the risk seems very low.

The greater risk is traveling to different hotels and cities. (Of course the risk at home without distancing is real too.) The headlines blared that the Canadian government “banned” the Toronto Blue Jays from playing.

The truth is that the issue Canada had was not with the safety of playing baseball but with the cross border travel of opponents (and the Blue Jays) without quarantine.

The worry on the field is minimal. Just like the worry off the field is greater than on it.

Yes, the first baseman may hold the runner on and yes the catcher is fairly close to the batters. However, by CDC standards for contact tracing which are to be within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes, these players are at very low risk. Perhaps the umpire to the catcher is the highest. Throwing a ball around the infield does have several different people touching the ball but the chance of transmission is low, especially if the players don’t touch their face and use hand sanitizer between innings.

The bigger worry for players is in the dugout or in the locker room and training room where there normally would be prolonged closer contact but that I am sure will be solved by using different parts of the empty stadium. Even showering at the stadium is banned — which seems silly since we are told to constantly wash our hands but I guess that doesn’t go for our bodies. The even bigger potential threat is travel, buses, hotels and meals specifically, but precautions are being taken.

Of course the biggest risk is still at home and in the community where everyone else is not tested like the players are. Fortunately, after initial testing upon arrival, the follow up tests have returned extremely low positive rates.

Besides the empty stands, baseball will look different. No more spitting, chewing tobacco or pitchers licking their fingers, three things few people will miss. Gum chewing is ok but no blowing bubbles. Nose to nose arguments will be gone as well.

The bottom line is that I “help” “coach” my seven-year-old’s little league team in California. Practices are allowed with precautions and I would allow him to play in a game if that were okayed. I have not invited his grandparents to come watch him practice since other parents attend. 

I am glad to see baseball’s return. Just like an entire state or region can’t be treated the same, all sports can’t be banned or allowed to return in blanket fashion. Baseball is among the naturally “safer” sports and could have returned earlier.

The expectation is with continued precautions baseball will safely continue, just not in Toronto for now.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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