Cubs

Why Theo Epstein says MLB is better positioned to play now than it was in March

Why Theo Epstein says MLB is better positioned to play now than it was in March

The statistics on new daily COVID-19 cases paint a bleak picture, and Theo Epstein is known for being analytical. But the Cubs president of baseball operations isn’t just looking at the over 54,000 new cases in the U.S. over the past day, believed to be a new record.

“I think we’re better positioned now than we were in March or April to try to pull off a baseball season,” Epstein said on a video conference with local media Thursday. “Are we in control? Do we have a guarantee of success? Of course not, no. The pandemic is in control.”

Why does he think MLB is better positioned now than when the novel coronavirus shut down Spring Training? Testing capabilities and understanding of COVID-19.

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Major League Baseball converted a lab in Utah, which the minor leagues had previously used for drug testing, into a COVID-19 testing center.

“We’re able to provide the type of testing that’s the volume and turnaround and accuracy of testing that is necessary to even consider this type of endeavor,” Epstein said. “And, they’re able to do it in a way that doesn’t take resources away from any essential workers in the country.”

When MLB suspended the season in March, it certainly wasn’t ready for the volume of testing that it has now committed to. The 2020 Operations Manual requires all Tier 1 individuals – players, manager, coaches, team physicians, athletic trainers, etc. – to take a diagnostic COVID-19 test every other day. Each team can designate up to 87 Tier 1 individuals.

Tier 2 individuals – clubhouse staff, remaining coaches and medical staff, traveling staff, front office employees, communication staff, head grounds keeper, security personnel assigned to restricted areas, etc. – must be tested multiple times a week.

MLB also committed to offering free COVID-19 testing to those who live with Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals, and healthcare workers or first responders in MLB cities.

“There’s some increased understanding of how the virus operates,” Epstein added, “and best practices to attempt to mitigate the spread.”

MLB consulted health experts in developing its health and safety protocols.  This week, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and most recently Epstein expressed their confidence in the process that produced those protocols.

“Now, no protocols are fool-proof,” Epstein said. “…This is merely an exercise to see if we can put on a baseball season safely. So, it deserves all of our best efforts and full attention. It’s a responsibility to take very seriously, and we know that if it turns out that we can’t put on a baseball season safely, then we won’t proceed.”

Hottovy, who said he tested positive for COVID-19 despite diligently taking precautions, can attest to the fallibility of even the strictest protocols. He battled the virus for a month, and two weeks later he still hasn’t regained full strength or lung capacity.

“Tommy’s story illustrates that nobody is immune from coronavirus,” Epstein said, “and that while people who are young and healthy may do better on a percentage basis overall, it’s still quite dangerous, even potentially deadly for people of all ages and people in perfect health.

“Tommy is 38 years old, a former big-league player in great health, and there were times talking to him through the course of this struggle that he sounded like an elderly person fighting for breath.”

MLB’s testing capacity and understanding of COVID-19 may have improved since March, but not everything has changed for the better. Florida set a new daily record Thursday, with over 10,000 new cases of COVID-19. Texas, Arizona and California are also seeing a rise in new cases.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced an emergency travel order on Thursday, which will require travelers coming from several states with COVID-19 surges (including Florida, Texas, Arizona and California) to quarantine for 14 days. The order will go into effect on Monday.

As Epstein said, COVID-19 has control.

“Every single person in the organization,” Epstein said, “every player, ever staff member, everyone in uniform, out of uniform, we all have to make great decisions, exercise great discipline, hold each other accountable, collaborate, go into it with an open mind and exercise real personal and collective responsibility.”

Yes, for the sake of baseball. But more importantly, for the sake of the people risking their health to put on a season.

 

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Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”

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Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

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The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”

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