- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has vowed to ‘play on’ and continue the 2020 season despite coronavirus concerns.
- On Friday, Manfred told MLBPA head Tony Clark that the season could be shut down if players don’t folow COVID-19 protocols.
- The MLB reported 29 positive tests on Friday with 21 coming from the Miami Marlins.
The big news in Major League Baseball on Friday was a report that indicated Commissioner Rob Manfred was ready to shut down the season if coronavirus trends didn’t improve. By Saturday, Manfred had softened his position considerably saying that ‘there is no reason to quit now’. The backdrop of these comments were a spate of positive COVID-19 tests. Major League Baseball reported 29 positive tests on Friday with 21 coming from the Miami Marlins.
Both inside and outside of the baseball ecosystem there has been serious concern about the way that MLB has approached health and safety issues during the 2020 season to date. ESPN reported that local health officials in MLB cities have expressed concern about the lax enforcement of the protocols the sport established before the season began:
State and local governments have pressured baseball about players skirting the mandates outlined in the league’s 113-page operations manual, sources told ESPN. Broadcasts that have shown players high-fiving, spitting and not wearing masks have left government officials wondering how seriously players are taking the protocols, sources said.
An internal investigation conducted by the MLB into the Marlins’ rash of positive COVID-19 tests has reportedly discovered that the team made some bad decisions during a trip to Atlanta for an exhibition game with players congregating in the hotel bar and going out ‘on the town’. While that behavior isn’t expressly prohibited by the league it is strongly discouraged in the health and safety manual:
In order for a 2020 season to be conducted safely, Covered Individuals must exercise care while away from Club facilities to avoid situations in which the risk of contracting the virus is elevated, such as participating in activities involving large groups or indoor activities in which people are in close proximity to one another (e.g., crowded restaurants, bars, clubs). MLB will not formally restrict the activities of Covered Individuals when they are away from Club facilities, but will expect the Covered Individuals on each Club to ensure that they all act responsibly.
‘Covered individuals’ is the league parlance for players, managers, coaches and other relevant personnel. Unlike the NHL and NBA, Major League Baseball chose to not employ a protective ‘bubble’ environment. Initially, there was talk that the MLB would set up such an environment in Arizona but the idea was dropped after a less than enthusiastic reaction from players. The league created the schedule in hopes to minimize travel and the party line was that by playing in teams’ home ballparks it would ‘allow players to stay isolated at home with families’. The players apparently have other ideas. In response to that, the league has required every team to hire a compliance officer which is clearly something that should have been done long before the restart.
Manfred made clear on Saturday that he wasn’t about to ‘pull the plug’ on the season despite the challenges:
“We are playing. The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”
The goal according to the commissioner is to prioritize health and safety while playing as many games as possible. What it looks like is that amid all of the rancorous back and forth between players and owners over salary structure prior to the 2020 season the COVID-19 pandemic became almost an afterthought. In basketball and hockey, the respective leagues made clear from the start that a ‘bubble’ environment and the commitment of the players had to be there as a prerequisite before the rest of the logistics of restarting the season could be considered. In Major League Baseball, the players pushed back on the idea of being ‘isolated’ in Arizona and for some reason the commissioner and owners quickly caved.
Further suggesting a lax approach to health and safety matters there are still some problematic situations that should have been addressed long before now. The most significant at the moment is the way rain delays are handled. More appropriately, the league doesn’t have any type of protocol and it’s business as usual with both teams retiring to the clubhouse. This is clearly in conflict with the league’s goal to prioritize health and safety as Chicago Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Maimi Marlins manager Don Mattingly have both pointed out. Back during the exhibition games Mattingly was quoted in a tweet as saying: “We had all these guys and nowhere to go. Then we’ve got a zillion guys in the dugout, so there’s no way we’re social distancing.” Once again, this is something that should have been addressed long before ghoulish Dr. Fauci threw out the first pitch to start the MLB season.