When Is Enough Enough? A Look At Baseball’s Recent Covid Outbreaks

Eric Urbanowicz
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On June 14th, the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Tony Clark, issued a statement that ended with the phrase, “Tell Us When and Where.” This quickly started trending on Twitter when stars like Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder Bryce Harper, Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout and Washington Nationals’ pitcher Max Scherzer started quoting it and adding their own sentiments.

This became the battle cry against commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Baseball team owners who were looking to make a deal to restructure payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It worked and an agreement was made.

While some players would eventually choose to opt-out due to the pandemic, others chose to stay and play. For the most part, it’s gone well. Except when it hasn’t.

Following a scrimmage in Atlanta on July 22nd, several Miami Marlins players tested positive for the virus. It got to the point that over half the roster would test positive and they had to pause their season. An investigation into the situation revealed that the team had gone out that night, allegedly to clubs, then congregated at the hotel bar.

On July 30th, the St. Louis Cardinals started seeing positive tests, with more coming by the day. This forced baseball to put them on pause from that day to August 13th (at the earliest). Two insiders for Major League Baseball would report that members of the team allegedly took a trip to a casino.

The St. Louis outbreak would prompt commissioner Manfred to tell Clark if players and teams don’t do a better job managing the coronavirus pandemic, MLB would consider shutting down the season. For a while, it straightened out but it wouldn’t last.

The latest incident baseball has seen took place on August 8th, when Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Zach Plesac went out with friends following a game against the Chicago White Sox.

The next day, the team found out, isolated him from the rest of the roster and sent him home. It was later revealed that a second pitcher, Mike Clevinger, also was out with Plesac. He was given the same treatment.

In addition to the bad publicity for these players and teams as well as the ire from peers in the sport, it raises a serious question. Are baseball players responsible enough for there to be a season?

Team owners and Manfred are not without blame. Had they taken time away from the financial situation, they could have focused more on the details for player safety. While there were regulations and some protocols that were eventually agreed to, its clear it isn’t enough. It would also help if they were stricter in their enforcements.

The NBA and NHL are succeeding because in their bubbles, if someone leaves, they have to quarantine and we have even seen some players sent home for breaking bubble restrictions.

So why does this fall on the players?

It’s because they were the ones who wanted to play. Simply put, it was a good group of owners who were fine with missing the season. Though their reasons were more financial, it also would have allowed them to be able to stay home and avoid temptation. Even though losing a year’s salary would hurt, their endorsement deals would help them at least make due.

It also would have eliminated the temptation to go out in the ways they have. If they’re sitting at home, away from the road and away from nightlife in open cities, that temptation would more likely than not be nonexistent to them.

The reality is that we have a season and those temptations are prevalent. Because of which, baseball put out a coronavirus safety manual. In the manual is the following excerpt:

“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.”

By choosing not to opt out of the season, the players verbally agreed to this guideline. Therefore, some have been breaching the trust between front offices and players, as well as fans.

Fans were already put through enough with the wait and the back-and-forth between the owners and players. It’s gotten to the point that quite a few fans have even tuned out over the the dispute (as well as other things for some fans). For players to act irresponsibly and show a lack of care for the season is just more proof for those who were just starting to come around to leave yet again.

As mentioned before, the safety precautions have worked out for the most part. A good portion of players have followed the guidelines and haven’t taken the risks associated with the virus. While it’s to be commended, it’s also a hindrance to a degree.

The players that have stayed safe should have played that “big brother” role. They should have spoken out and said, “I don’t think you should do that,” or “is this really a good idea?” While we may not know if that did or didn’t happen, as it hasn’t been reported, there’s no evidence saying that someone spoke up or warned.

If they didn’t end up warning them, then it’s even scarier because players won’t know whose been following guidelines or not until they are confirmed Covid-19 positive.

More work needs to be done by both sides to ensure that the baseball season actually finishes. The actions we’ve seen up to this point have been unacceptable. The commissioner, owners, players association and even managers need to dole out punishments to those who don’t comply.

The players need to recognize the severity of this virus and take the guidelines and protocols seriously. If either side fails at this, the baseball season is doomed.

Eric Urbanowicz


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