We all know how this story ends, we just don’t know the granular details yet. Do another 15 Marlins test positive overnight, forcing cancellation of the season? Does the league play on a few more days until players on another team begin testing positive — possibly the Phillies, who were on the field with Miami this past weekend — and then cancel the season?
If we know how the story ends, why not end it now before anyone else gets sick?
I think of this guy as the Bill de Blasio of pro sports commissioners, a supreme insult in a universe in which Roger Goodell is also a pro sports commissioner.
Commissioner Manfred sits down with Tom Verducci in Studio 21.
Tune in to MLB Tonight after the game for the full interview. pic.twitter.com/WnZx8q5U8q
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 27, 2020
The question right now isn’t when the Marlins will play again. It’s why they were allowed to play yesterday after several players had already tested positive.
The operations manual says that after a player tests positive for COVID-19, the club must conduct contact tracing to identify the individuals who had close contact with the infected individual. The Marlins flew together to Philadelphia from Atlanta, traveled by bus to a Center City hotel, traveled by bus to the ballpark, dressed in the clubhouse, and sat in the dugout.
It could be easily argued that every Marlins player and staff member came in close contact over the weekend with the infected players. If so, the operations manual says those individuals should be quarantined or isolated pending the results of an Expedited Diagnostic Test, which the Marlins received Sunday morning. Instead of quarantining and thus postponing Sunday’s game, the Marlins played a 3-hour, 44-minute game against the Phillies and then learned Monday morning that eight additional players had tested positive.
The easy response is to say, “They’re young, they’re athletes, they’ll be fine.” Probably, although whether they’ll suffer career-threatening damage in the process is an open question. The threat isn’t to the players as much as it is to the older people around them. Nationals manager Dave Martinez is 55 and was taken to the hospital last year after experiencing chest pain during a game; he ended up having a catheter inserted into his heart. He’s not even pretending to be calm about what’s happening with the Marlins: “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared… My level of concern went from an eight to a 12.” Doctors interviewed by WaPo and the New York Post were aghast that the Marlins were allowed to play yesterday after four members of the team initially tested positive:
“This is off-the-charts bad,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Oxford College of Emory University. “ … This was always my concern. I anticipated an outbreak on a team, especially on a team from a city with a high incidence of the virus. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised to see it happened to a team from Miami.”…
[B]ecause of the lag time before test results can be learned [every 24-48 hours] and the incubation period of the virus, one fear expressed by epidemiologists was that an infected but asymptomatic player could spread the virus to his teammates before realizing he was a carrier. Each of those 10 positive cases, in other words, was a potential vector for the virus.
“I can’t believe they played that game [Sunday],” said Binney. “Four cases should have been enough to cancel it.”
Binney thinks the Marlins should be shut down for two weeks and their last opponent, the Phillies, for five days. What happens to all the holes in the schedule that would create, with no time to play make-up games before the playoffs? *Shrug* “I don’t think there’s a safe way of doing these kinds of group team sports, I would say, at least for the rest of 2020 and most likely until there’s a vaccine,” said Dr. [Anthony] Santella to the Post. “I personally think you’re compromising people’s health and well-being for a short-term gain.”
Dodgers pitcher David Price opted out before the season, at a moment when MLB was having trouble delivering test results in a timely way. Today he’s pointing fingers:
Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.
— David Price (@DAVIDprice24) July 27, 2020
Maybe the league’s decided to leave the ball in the players’ court. It’s their health that’s at risk, after all. If the players conclude that that risk has now risen to an unacceptable degree, they’ll just opt out en masse like Price and that’s the end of the season. Until then, MLB will continue to host games. Arguably it’s the head of the players’ union who should be pressed for a way forward instead of Manfred.
Exit question: Is MLB’s loss the NFL’s gain? One thing we’ve learned from this unfortunate experiment is that you can’t just ask players to isolate while they’re away from the park and trust that no one will get infected. To have any chance at sustaining the season, you need 24/7 protocols like the NBA is trying in Orlando. Maybe that’s impossible with huge NFL rosters, but at least Goodell knows now that putting everyone on the honor system and letting them carry on more or less as usual outside the stadium is a nonstarter. Time for Plan B.