Innovation in Baseball and Judaism “Thanks” to Covid

I imagine a day when we will show children pictures of a bar mitzvah from 2019 or earlier—and they will stare in confusion at a large group of people at the bima of a synagogue on the occasion of a bar or bat mitzvah.  They will see a torah reader, people having an Aliyah, perhaps the gabbis and family members—and they will be shocked at the large group of people assembled.  After all, there is no social distancing (and no masks).  We will patiently explain that, “in the old days,” that’s what a torah aliyah looked like.

Similarly, we will explain that on Simchat Torah, large groups of kids—and some tall men—came up to the bima and gathered under a tallis for a blessing for “Kol HaNearim.”   They will have no memory of this custom either, for Judaism has evolved, and we now have aliyahs from seats, and the blessing for the children from their seats as well. 

This is what happens—changes occur over time to reflect new realities.  And once they are in place for long enough, we forget how it used to be.

We are seeing the same thing in Major League Baseball.   Once upon a time, American League pitchers came up to bat.  If you were born anywhere after 1973 and root for an American League team, you have no memory of that.  You only remember the DH.  The American League adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973.  American League pitchers don’t bat except when they play in National League ballparks

All that will change with the start of the proposed 60-game regular season anticipated to begin on July 23 and 24. As part of its health and safety protocols, MLB will be instituting a number of rule changes.


-This season, both leagues will use the DH to avoid overtaxing pitchers by having them hit.

-There will be a “three-batter minimum” rule, requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses.

-And perhaps most interesting—and controversial—extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. During the regular season, every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base. If that runner scores, the pitcher won't be charged with an earned run.

The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter, or a pinch-runner. However, if the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, the runner placed on second base may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order. This rule will not be in place for the postseason.  Baseball stats keepers can quantify just how many games per season go overtime—and just how long fans sit and sit:  Over the past five years, 8.26% of all regular-season games have gone to extra innings. There were 208 extra-innings games in the 2019 regular season, counting for 8.56% of all games.]

There are more changes planned:

-If weather forces a game to be cut short before it is official, it will be continued at a later date rather than started from scratch.

-Players and managers will be expected to maintain physical distance from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible. Players or managers who leave their position to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in an altercation on the field will be subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including a fine and a suspension.   My whole childhood, I watched Oriole’s manager, Earl Weaver, get in the face of umpires, just “begging” them to eject him!

-Pitchers will be permitted to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers. Pitchers will not be able to access the rag while on the rubber, and they must clearly wipe the fingers of their pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the rubber. Water is the only substance that will be allowed on the rag.


What do we learn from new procedures in synagogues and in the MLB? We learn that new realities lead to evolving and changing rules—and they just may help “the game” in the short and long run.  In the Jewish world, we have seen aliyahs from seats, Kabbalat Shabbat on Zoom before Shabbat start, Hallel on rosh chodesh over Zoom.  Some synagogues read the Book of Ruth, traditionally read on Shavuot, a day early, over Zoom.  And even Yizkor before the holiday starts.  Who knows what Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will look like? New realities are opportunities to innovate.

MLB is clearly taking these measures to get some baseball in this year.  And they are doing it in a way they hope will maximize safety—and speed.  We may just find that they help the game going forward.

Best of luck to MLB and the Jewish religion as we confront new realities—and new opportunities to innovate.

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