The players in Cleveland’s clubhouse and executives in the front office sent a loud and clear message Friday about how seriously they’re taking the dangers of COVID-19 and the league’s safety protocols.
And whether the rest of the league was listening, starting pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger got the message when — after a team meeting — they were optioned to the team’s alternate site for violating protocols by leaving their hotel in Chicago last weekend and socializing with friends.
Plesac only made himself look worse by posting a 6 1/2-minute video Thursday to “express the truth” about the incident.
The episode not only raised questions about the two players involved but also about how many others among the 30 teams might believe a quick trip out of the hotel is harmless — not to mention how many more might begin to feel that way if their teams drop out of contention in the next few weeks.
Cleveland, after all, was pitching as well as almost anyone in baseball and a contender with a lot to play for.
“Luckily, we haven’t had to deal with that yet,” said Cubs rookie Nico Hoerner, who wished Cleveland players good health and quick resolution to their clubhouse rift.
But luck doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Cubs’ respect for safety measures and the easily-spread nature of a virus that has killed nearly 170,000 Americans in five months.
And neither does any potential incentive from their hot start to the season, Hoerner said.
“I don’t think the success of our team is determining our following protocols,” he said. “I think it comes from caring about each other as people and just understanding the rules and having them be pretty black and white.”
The Cubs watched the virus ravage their pitching coach in real time on daily Zoom sessions until Tommy Hottovy’s monthlong bout took enough strength to force him to hand off duties in June until he recovered.
The team has built an effective enough plan and gotten enough across-the-board buy-in that no players have tested positive. The Cubs’ plan exceeded MLB’s initial protocols, and early results drew enough attention from the rest of the league that other teams reached out to the team.
Jason Kipnis, who spent nine seasons in Cleveland before signing with the Cubs over the winter, expressed mixed feelings over what his former team is going through, with friends on “both sides” of the incident there.
“I’ve been teammates with all of them. I’m friends with Plesac and Clev,” said Kipnis, who stressed that he doesn’t know all the details because he’s “looking at it from the outside like everyone else.”
“I’m friends with the rest of the team that they kind of hurt in a way,” he added. “You never want to see someone’s career kind of being taken from them in a sense where they’re not allowed to pitch. But at the same time, they put themselves in this position.”
Kipnis also is close with Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who’s in the high-risk category for serious reactions to the virus after missing three months last season while battling leukemia.
“Listen, I hope they learned their lesson real quick,” Kipnis said. “I hope they prove to their teammates they learned their lesson and get back to being on the mound because those are two of the best pitchers in the [American League].
“They’re good guys. I know they’re getting a bad rap right now. They just made some mistakes. And I think they’re paying for it right now. When you screw up, sometimes you’ve got to answer that bell.”
Two teams already have had widespread outbreaks on their teams that at various points appeared to threaten their seasons: the Marlins and Cardinals.
And a report late Friday said a Cincinnati player had tested positive.
At the very least, it seems safe to say the Cubs got the message long before the Cleveland organization delivered one Friday.
“You couldn’t ask for a better group of men to be in a room with, especially going through a pandemic here and trying to complete a season,” left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “You can’t speak enough to what everyone and their families are sacrificing on a daily basis, first off, off the field. It’s not just because there aren’t any positive tests. This is a big sacrifice in general.
“For us to not have a positive test, knock on wood, it’s been unbelievable. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”