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Has the coronavirus ruined the high-five?



Dusty Baker, in 1977, was sitting on 29 home runs on the last day of the season.

No MLB team had ever featured four players with 30 or more home runs in a season — and three of Baker’s fellow Los Angeles Dodgers sluggers had already hit their 30th long balls. In the sixth inning, Baker launched a fence-clearing shot off the Houston Astros‘ J.R. Richard. As Baker crossed home plate and headed toward the dugout, teammate Glenn Burke had his hand up in the air while waiting on deck. And what did Baker do? He slapped it.

It was the birth of the high-five.

In the decades since, the high-five has been found in every corner of the sports world — from 6-year-olds playing youth sports to the World Cup final. It is both intimate and inherent, and it is deeply entrenched in the DNA of every sport.

Now what?

We might be looking at the end of the high-five due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus is mostly spread through respiratory droplets, either by breathing them into the lungs or by touching a surface that has droplets on it and then touching the face.

Coronavirus: Postponements and cancellations in sport

“When we talk about maximum transmission [of the coronavirus], the hands are the place where I focus on the most. When we talk about the high-five and also the handshake, this is almost the perfect pathogen to spread it,” Dr. Neel Gandhi, a professor of infectious diseases, epidemiology and global health at Emory University, told ESPN.

When asked if the coronavirus will bring about the end of the high-five and handshake, Gandhi said probably.

“Of all of the things we would say we would advise against, the high-five and the handshake are two in the current era, in the current pandemic, [that] we should not continue to use,” he said.

According to many experts like Gandhi, rapid-result testing for the coronavirus is the most important and most efficient way to keep everyone at a sporting event safe and healthy.

Because there is still so much uncertainty about this strain of the coronavirus, doing little things to minimize contact, such as getting rid of the high-five, will be beneficial.

“By not gathering large numbers of people together in the same space and [by] testing, those are by far the biggest ways we can avoid a large outbreak of COVID-19 in a sports team,” Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist and sports injury analytics consultant, told ESPN. “We know that the main way that this virus transmits is through sustained close contact of some kind. So anything you can do to reduce that amount of contact will have some sort of marginal gain for preventing transmission.”

The challenge going forward will be harnessing passion and creativity among players in other ways.

Baker, who has spent a lifetime in baseball and is in his first year managing the Astros, would have liked to change the high-five to the first bump even before this pandemic, he told ESPN.

“Because at the time, you didn’t think about it, but it was really very unsanitary. I mean, even shaking hands was really unsanitary. Hugs aren’t even sanitary,” Baker said.

For Dr. Michael Saag, an epidemiologist and prominent HIV/AIDS researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it’s all about getting back to basics and minimizing the risk of spread whenever possible.

“What I would suggest is we find creative ways to communicate the same thing — like an air high-five, ankle touch, do new dances. Communicate the same spirit and almost in a more entertaining way, at a distance,” Saag told ESPN. “As long as we keep in mind: Why are we doing this? We are trying to keep everybody safe and have sports return in a way we can enjoy it, but without excessive concern about safety of the participants or the fans.”

That means the coronavirus will “probably” be the end of the high-five, according to Baker. “And it should be. It’s been around long enough,” Baker said. “I think it’s about time anyway.”

That means celebrations in the age of the coronavirus are going to get a bit more interesting. Will impromptu and choreographed celebrations give way to awkward stares and spacing reminiscent of middle school dances?

There will certainly be a transition period, a period of adjustment.

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On National High Five Day in April — yes, that’s a thing — Baker announced that he was spearheading #TheNextHighFive challenge to urge celebrations to go contactless. Soccer star Sydney Leroux and Milwaukee Brewers players Brent Suter and Keston Hiura have already posted creative high-five solutions on social media, hoping to inspire athletes everywhere to do the same — and show that the passion and emotion can still be there.

“It’s hard to stop people from celebrating because if you feel it, you feel it. You don’t really think about the consequences of your actions while you’re feeling it,” Baker said. “People will come up with something.”

That something is probably going to be a groovy dance he can’t keep up with, Baker said.

“When I watch different sports to see that it’s choreographed — I mean, I couldn’t even remember how to do the hustle,” he said. “[W]hen you feel it, you don’t think about nothing. When you’re of emotion, it’s coming from your soul. It’s not coming from your brain. It’s coming from deep inside.”

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Shortened MLB amateur draft to remain at New Jersey studio



NEW YORK — Major League Baseball’s shortened amateur draft will remain at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the first round on June 10.

MLB shortened the selections to five rounds and 160 picks in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, by far the fewest since the draft started in 1965. Before the pandemic, the draft had been scheduled to take place at Omaha, Nebraska, ahead of the now-canceled College World Series.

Clubs were able to reduce the draft as part of their March 26 agreement with the players’ association. The combined value of their signing bonus pools is $235,906,800 and the amount of signing bonus pool money eliminated is $29,578,100.

The first 37 picks will take place on the opening day and the remainder on June 11. The deadline for selected players to sign was pushed back from July 10 to Aug. 1.

Detroit picks first, followed by Baltimore, Miami and Kansas City.

Houston was stripped of its first- and second-round selections as part of MLB penalties for using a video camera to steal catcher’s signs. Boston lost its second-round selection for improper use of video.

Baseball’s draft was long held by conference call at the commissioner’s office in New York. The draft was moved to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for 2007 and 2008.

Residents of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are subject to the draft.

As part of the agreement with the union, slot values to determine signing bonus pools will remain at 2019 levels and players passed over in the draft are limited to signing bonuses of $20,000 or less. That might cause more high school players to go to college. And because of the NCAA’s limit of 11.7 baseball scholarships, the change may lead to more prospects attending junior college.

All but six of last year’s sixth-round picks signed for $200,000 or more. Chicago Cubs catcher/first baseman Ethan Hearn had the highest bonus of the round at $950,000, deciding to sign rather than attend Mississippi State. San Francisco signed right-hander John McDonald, selected 326th on the 11th round, for $797,500, and Arizona gave left-hander Avery Short, picked 362nd on the 12th round, $922,500.

Among 1,082 players who were in a big league game last year after coming through the draft, 180 were first-round picks and 589 were selected during the first five rounds, according to the commissioner’s office. There were 204 from rounds six to 10, 102 from rounds 11-15 and 63 from rounds 16-20. Just 74 were from rounds 21-30 and only 50 from rounds 31-50.

Once unlimited, the draft was cut to 50 rounds in 1998 and to 40 rounds in 2012.

Signing bonus pools started in 2012 and limit the amount of money teams can spend. Each slot in the first 10 rounds is a signed a value — the range last year was $8,415,300 down to $142,200 — and each team’s values are added to a form a pool. Signing bonuses in the first 10 rounds count against the pool along with the amounts above $125,000 of players selected after the 10th round or who were bypassed in the draft and then signed.

A team that exceeds its pool is taxed, and a club more than 5% above loses a first-round draft pick the next year — a threshold never reached.

The union turned down a proposal that would have kept rounds 6-10 in exchange for cutting their slot values in half.

Teams drafted 1,217 players over 40 rounds last June.

As part of the deal with the union, teams have the right to cut the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. That fits in MLB’s proposal to cut their minimum minor league affiliations from 160 to 120 in 2021, allowing each organization to drop one farm team.

For both 2020 and ’21, only up to $100,000 of each signing bonus is due within 30 days of approval and 50% of the remainder on July 1 in both 2020 and ’21.

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Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – The day Mike Schmidt realized it was time to go



You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1989, Mike Schmidt retired.

Schmidt had played in 42 games that season, he was tied for second in home runs (six) by National League third basemen at the time, and he was the active career leader in homers, RBIs, runs scored and total bases. But, at age 39, his recent play had been unacceptable to him.

The full “On this date …” archive

“We were on the bus, leaving [San Francisco’s] Candlestick [Park] for the airport to fly to San Diego,” said Bob Dernier, then a Phillies outfielder. “Mike was in the back of the bus with Chris James, Bedrock (Steve Bedrosian) and a few others. Mike looked at us and said, ‘I think that’s it, I’m done.’ Chris James started bawling. He said, ‘No, no, Mike, you can’t!’ Mike told me, ‘I can’t catch. I can’t throw.’ He was embarrassed about his defense. Defense was so important to him. He used to tell me that the All-Star team should be the Gold Glove team. He valued that more than anything, even when he was leading the league in home runs.”

Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves; only Brooks Robinson (16) won more at third base. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, which remains an NL record. He finished with 548 homers, most by a third baseman. His combination of power offensively and grace and skill defensively was breathtaking; indeed, he could play the piano and move it, too. Schmidt won three MVPs, including back-to-back years, and finished third two other times. By most measures, he is the greatest third baseman ever.

And yet it was never enough for Schmidt; he was constantly fretting about his swing. Nearly 30 years after retirement, he told me, “When I was struggling, if you had told me that I should set up in the box with my back to the pitcher, I would have tried it.”

Schmidt was hitting .203 at the time he retired. So he accompanied the team to San Diego that night, and officially announced his retirement the following day. It was so emotional. He broke down several times.

“As soon as Mike said he was done, Bedrock and I started planning the celebratory party,” Dernier said. “We were going to get Harry [Kalas, the club’s legendary play-by-play broadcaster] to speak, we were thinking about getting some Heinkens on ice. We had a great party. We were all so sad to see him go, but he had so much pride in his play, who was I to argue with that? I saw him do some amazing things. Mike was just mesmerizing.”

Other baseball notes for May 29

  • In 1981, Ellis Valentine was traded from the Expos to the Mets. In 1982, Valentine pointed his right pinky finger in my face and said, “I have more talent in this finger than most players have in their entire body.”

  • In 2010, Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game. He won the NL Cy Young Award that year. He had a replica Cy Young made for his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, because, Halladay said, Ruiz had so much to do with his success.

  • In 1941, Joe DiMaggio struck out for the third time all year. He would finish the season with 30 homers, 13 strikeouts and a 56-game hitting streak. I wrote that stat 35 years ago, and a radio guy got a little mixed up, saying, “I just read the other day an amazing stat: In the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, he struck out only 13 times.” Yikes.

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Biggest needs and best fits — 2020 MLB draft guide for all 30 teams



The 2020 MLB draft, to be held June 10 and 11, will be unlike any other. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the draft will be conducted remotely and limited to just five rounds, down from 40 in 2019. Teams will be able to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players, at a price of $20,000.

Additionally, college and high school prospects had their spring seasons cut short or eliminated altogether, leaving MLB teams with much less information on the players than they typically would have.

Here is a guide for all 30 teams, with each organization’s greatest needs, the best fits in the draft, each team’s typical approach, a list of its picks this year and more.

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