I have never won the World Series. So, I can’t pretend to understand the feeling that came over Justin Turner as he watched the realization of his lifelong dream from a doctor’s office in the back of the clubhouse at Globe Life Field.
But, like Turner, I have received a positive COVID-19 test.
My results came back on Monday, eight red letters in all caps on a medical chart app.
I double-checked the research and math I’d done on incubation and contagion -- even though I knew that for over two weeks I’d only left the apartment for groceries and to walk the dog.
I wanted to be absolutely sure that I hadn’t spread the virus to anyone else. Because when you’re at low risk for serious illness, your main concern becomes the health of those around you.
Except, that wasn’t Turner’s inclination. Or that of the Dodgers. And after an MLB investigation, commissioner Rob Manfred announced last week that the league wouldn’t punish Turner or the Dodgers for their violation of the COVID-19 protocol.
“We all have made mistakes as we navigated these unprecedented challenges and have tried to learn from those mistakes so they are not repeated,” Manfred said in a MLB release. “With this in mind, I am closing this matter by applauding Justin for accepting responsibility, apologizing and making a commitment to set a positive example going forward.”
With that, Manfred made the biggest mistake of all three parties. After months earlier pitching MLB’s health protocols to the players association as a way to keep the players safe, and later chastising players when COVID-19 outbreaks threatened the regular season, Manfred essentially shrugged his shoulders at an obvious violation of policy. And he set the tone for the upcoming 2021 season.
I skimmed Manfred and Turner’s statements Friday while swaddled in a comforter waiting for my temperature to stabilize. And I’ve been lucky. My COVID-19 experience so far has just been flu-like symptoms and a loss of taste and smell.
So many others have battled severe respiratory illness alone in the hospital. In just the United States, well over 200,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention.
Those realities and a dose of compassion should have been enough to spur the unofficial contact tracing I conducted as soon as I began to experience symptoms. But to be honest, guilt was the more effective inspiration. That gnawing feeling wouldn’t go away until I knew I’d done what I could to limit the spread of the virus.
In Major League Baseball, it’s become clear that there isn’t one uniform culture of accountability regarding health and safety protocols. After the World Series, Manfred had a chance to set a new tone for the 2021 season. He didn’t take it.
The Dodgers’ World Series photos will go down in infamy – Turner posing with his teammates around the trophy, after the Dodgers third baseman tested positive for COVID-19. They baffled me as the saga unfurled a couple weeks ago. They downright shock me now.
I’m not suggesting scapegoating Turner. Manfred tried that with the first statement he put out after the incident – much of which he recanted in his second. But his lackluster final word on the situation disarmed the effectiveness of guilt, or accountability, or peer pressure – whatever you want to call it – moving forward.
After MLB’s investigation, Manfred reported that Turner’s teammates “actively encouraged” him to return to the field to take a picture and that Turner had been under the impression that he’d received permission from a Dodgers employee to do so. Then, on his way to the field Turner passed at least two Dodgers employees who did nothing to stop him.
“Major League Baseball could have handled the situation more effectively,” Manfred continued. “In retrospect, a security person should have been assigned to monitor Mr. Turner when he was asked to isolate, and Mr. Turner should have been transported from the stadium to the hotel more promptly.”
Turner apologized, both publicly and, he said, separately to his teammates, coaches and Dodgers staff members.
“Through my foundation, I will continue to support organizations in the Los Angeles area that assist our community in the battle against the virus,” Turner said.
But where is the Dodgers and MLB’s atonement? Sure, fining the Dodgers may look hypocritical in the wake of the league’s blunders this season. So, donate to COVID-19 research and relief along with a mea culpa, and let the Dodgers follow suit.
Instead, all we got was a mixed-message hodgepodge of statements that only weakened MLB’s stance on health and safety protocols. And the pandemic isn’t over yet.