How Major League Baseball Navigated Covid-19

Paul Schneider

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022


After nearly being forced to scrap the season, Major League Baseball (MLB) is set to crown a World Series champion in just days. Now that the season is near its conclusion, it is worth taking a look back at how MLB managed to pull off the most unique baseball season ever in the most unique year many of us can remember.

What does the MLB season typically look like?

Words like marathon and grind are often used to describe the baseball season. The Major League Baseball schedule normally consists of 30 teams playing 162 games each over a span of 187 days. That’s a total of 2,430 regular season games. The regular season runs from late March to late September, followed by the postseason, which normally concludes in the first few days of November.

Why were things forced to change this season?

Like everything else in 2020, the baseball season was forced to change due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Late February is an exciting time for baseball fans. All 30 teams report to either Arizona or Florida to take part in “spring training.” Teams participate in practices and exhibition games to prepare for the season. Spring training has become a desirable vacation destination for baseball fans around the country. The warm weather, the unique viewing experience, and the relaxed atmosphere provide fans with great anticipation for the coming season. However, on March 12, 2020, while spring training was well under way, Major League Baseball announced its decision to cancel the remainder of its spring training schedule and to delay the start of the regular season.

What protocols did MLB implement to get the season started?

After months of uncertainty, MLB announced that each team would play a shortened 60 game schedule beginning on July 23 and ending on September 27. With this announcement came 100-plus pages of rules to keep players, coaches, umpires, and team staff apart and healthy. Some of the highlights are described below.

Testing: Players were tested every other day during the regular season. The tests were run on saliva collections, though there were instances in which nasal or oral swabs were used for collections.

The Tier System: To limit access to the ballpark, MLB implemented a tier system. Each individual with permission to enter the stadium was placed into tiers one, two, or three based on the individual’s function. The people within tier one, such as players, were granted greater access to various areas within the stadium than those people in tiers two and three.

Symptom Questionnaires: MLB required every person with access to restricted areas to take their own temperature twice in succession and complete a symptom questionnaire before leaving their residence.

Screening at Arrival: Upon arriving at the stadium, players are staff were required to wear face coverings, undergo two more temperature checks, and another symptom questionnaire.

Identification Cards: Individuals in all three tiers were required to wear a team or MLB issued credential that included a photo and their assigned tier number around their neck. Players, uniformed personnel and umpires were permitted to remove their IDs in the clubhouse, training rooms, dugout, field, and bullpen.

Expanded Spaces: MLB suggested teams establish additional temporary clubhouses so players could spread out even more. If space for an auxiliary clubhouse was unavailable to a team, MLB suggested the team schedule staggered arrival times to ensure social distancing.

Did the protocols work during the regular season?

As expected, MLB was unable to completely contain Covid-19 despite these strict regulations. Just days after the season began, 18 players on the Miami Marlins tested positive. In early August, seven players and six staff members of the St. Louis Cardinals tested positive. However, the baseball community seemed to learn from these early outbreaks that jeopardized the season. Following these outbreaks, just three teams had a day in which they reported a positive test. Each time, the virus seemingly stopped there and didn’t spread throughout the rest of the clubhouse.

What lessons can we learn from MLB?

MLB’s ability to overcome the early adversity and ultimately finish the season can be attributed to two things: accountability and adaptability.

After the outbreaks with the Marlins and Cardinals, teams realized just how fragile the season was. It appeared as though teams worked to instill compliance with Covid protocols as part of a unified team culture. This cultural shift resulted in players taking ownership and accountability for their actions to ensure their teammates were not infected or prevented from playing the game they love.

Like every person and every entity in 2020, MLB was forced to confront problems for which it had no plan. The MLB season turned out to be a success because everyone involved was willing to adapt to circumstances that continued to change. Many have argued that baseball has failed to adapt to changing times. However, when the option is playing baseball or not playing baseball, the sport showed that it can adapt in unthinkable ways.