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Umpires’ assignments will change due to pandemic baseball

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We’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about how the players will deal with pandemic baseball, but the umpires are affected too. They travel more than the players do, after all. They don’t have a home park. They, also, (a) get people up in their face during arguments; and (b) have to yell and project their voices, which is itself a risky thing to do in the time of COVID-19.

Last night Jesse Rogers of ESPN reported on some of the changes in routine the umps will have to deal with in 2020. Starting with spring training, where groups of three umps each will be embedded with big league camps, will watch bullpen sessions and batting practice and stuff as a means of easing themselves back into game shape, just like the players are.

During the season things will change a good deal too. In normal times umps travel to a new city after every series and are rotated across the league so they are not seeing one team more than others, which could create creeping, unconscious biases or grudges in one direction or another. Now, to limit travel, an umpire crew may stay in a certain city across an entire homestand, for example. And in two-team cities they may just go across town to the other park as opposed to getting on a plane and heading to Cleveland or wherever.

Masks are an issue too. Rogers reports that they will be encouraged for umps but not required. Which seems to be heat/weather driven. The MLB/MLBPA guidelines have already specified that arguments between players and umps should be minimized or eliminated, but human nature may overtake that at times putting players and umps face-to-face in argument. Even if they avoid that, though, I’m wondering how much spit flies from a mask-free ump standing behind a catcher and a batter in the normal course of a game. When you’re bellowing out “strike!” and “out!” scores of times a game, you have to imagine it’s a non-trivial amount.

Just another complicating factor in what will already be a complicated season.

Nationals’ Strasburg ejected for arguing from the stands

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — A pitcher getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes – on his day off? And, from the stands?

Nationals star Stephen Strasburg earned one of baseball’s most unique ejections – probably ever – in the third inning of Washington’s game against the New York Mets on Thursday.

Strasburg was sitting in Section 121 at Citi Field in this socially distant season because he’s scheduled to start Friday against Baltimore Orioles. He was apparently unhappy with the strike zone of plate umpire Carlos Torres after Austin Voth‘s 2-2 pitch to Pete Alonso on the outside corner was ruled a ball.

Moments later, Torres ejected last year’s World Series MVP, though it took a few seconds to realize who had been tossed.

Someone was heard yelling: “You’re (expletive) brutal” shortly before television cameras captured Strasburg doffing his cap as he walked up the staircase on his way out of the park.

“Sorry, folks – sorry, FCC,” Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen said on SNY.

The usually stoic Strasburg appeared to be grinning underneath his blue mask as he made his exit.