Before the Cubs headed to St. Louis for what would end up being a postponed three-game series, they discussed the risks they would be facing by sharing a ballpark with the Cardinals.
“We trusted the process and the league,” Cubs MLBA representative Ian Happ said Sunday. “Trusted that the testing they were doing, as shown, would pick up any positives. That they would do a good job of making sure that we were safe.”
As it turned out, COVID-19 testing did reveal that the Cardinals’ outbreak wasn’t over, and Major League Baseball postponed the weekend series. The Cubs’ trust in the league was validated in this case, but the process also emphasized how vital it is for MLB to get COVID-19 related decisions right.
Just a week ago, commissioner Rob Manfred passed blame for the outbreaks onto the players, telling ESPN’s Karl Ravech, “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now.”
But Manfred has made mistakes along the way, with broad consequences.
From manager David Ross to the club’s front office, the Cubs have urged patience with the league as it navigates uncharted road blocks.
“We know the league has learned a lot with what happened with Miami,” Happ said. “And now they're continuing to learn with what's happening with St Louis, and we trust that they're going to do the right thing.”
Putting on a season in the middle of a pandemic was always going to be a challenge. But by going forward with it, Major League Baseball made a promise to its employees that it could handle the surprises. When people’s health and even lives are on the line, naivete is no excuse.
So, yes, there’s solace in the fact that the league pushed back the St. Louis series before any Cub could come into contact with a Cardinals employee. But the fact that it took mismanaging the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak to get there is troubling.
Don’t forget that when the Marlins had four positive tests, they still played the Phillies. Soon after, the Marlins’ positive test count skyrocketed to 21 players and staff members. Both Miami and Philadelphia’s schedules were impacted.
The Nationals took a vote – a step Happ said the Cubs never reached because they were in consensus that they’d play if cleared to do so – and a majority were against traveling to Miami.
“I probably wasn’t as aware of how many dominoes would fall when a team had an outbreak,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week.
It wasn’t Hoyer’s job to know that. It was the league’s job to anticipate it.
Thankfully only three Phillies staff members tested positive for COVID-19 after the team played the Marlins, and MLB identified two of those tests as false positives.
Major League Baseball seemed to learn from its mistake. When the Cardinals had two positive tests a week and a half ago, the league rescheduled their next game.
In a release, MLB said that the schedule change was, “consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be conducted.”
By the time the Cubs sat in a St. Louis hotel Friday, waiting for the league to decide if their weekend series would be cancelled, MLB had adjusted the way it implemented the protocols it referenced. It had even strengthened its health and safety guidelines, for road games especially.
“The testing protocols worked,” Happ said. “They did a great job of picking everything up and making sure that the process was taken care of, when it pertains to the direct contacts and making sure that they took the right amount of time.”
The Cubs, who still have not had a player test positive, didn’t have to go through what the Phillies did: watching their opponent’s COVID-19 cases spike, with their own future unclear.
Major League baseball’s next challenge is cramming makeup games into an already packed schedule.
“It's important for us to get the Cardinals back on the field in the next week,” Happ said. “That's a big part of this.”
Even if the Cardinals are able to resume play Thursday, they would have to play 55 games in 46 days to complete a full schedule. But Happ said he hasn’t been involved in any discussions about dropping a team from the season due to COVID-19.
“I don’t think the league’s entertaining it,” he said. “I don’t think the Cardinals are entertaining it.”
As the league reshuffles the schedule, Major League Baseball is again in unchartered territory. Let’s hope this time it can get it right on the first try.