Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

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.

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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.

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How Cubs could be impacted by MLB’s latest 2020-only rule change

How Cubs could be impacted by MLB’s latest 2020-only rule change

MLB made another 2020-only rule change and it could affect the Cubs’ schedule.

Friday, MLB announced an agreement with the players union to shorten doubleheaders to seven innings for the rest of the 2020 regular season, beginning Saturday. 

In wake of the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak, the 2020 schedule may feature numerous doubleheaders going forward, should the league attempt to make up every game. Miami and the Phillies haven’t played since Sunday, and the Marlins games are postponed through this week. Philadelphia — originally slated to return Saturday — canceled all team activities at Citizens Bank Park Thursday “until further notice.”

The Cardinals game against the Brewers Friday was postponed due to two positive COVID-19 tests and now is scheduled for a doubleheader on Sunday.

With doubleheaders necessary to complete as many games as possible, shortening them to seven innings will reduce some wear and tear on pitchers. 

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The Cubs had their first game postponed Thursday due to inclement weather in Cincinnati. They have a mutual day off with the Reds on Aug. 10, with the Cubs then playing in Cleveland Aug. 11-12 while Cincinnati opens a six-game homestand.

Thursday’s game could be made up Aug. 10, but it’s also both teams’ first day off of the season. Therefore, MLB could elect to schedule a doubleheader the weekend of Aug. 28-30, when the Cubs return to Great American Ballpark.

As of Thursday, no makeup date for the rainout has been announced.

MLB has instituted numerous 2020-only rule changes, including starting all extra innings with a runner on second base, expanded rosters and regionalized schedules. If a doubleheader game eclipses seven innings, a runner will be placed on second base from the eighth inning onward.

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Coronavirus outbreak at Phillies' complex highlights health risks facing MLB

Coronavirus outbreak at Phillies' complex highlights health risks facing MLB

Major League Baseball and the players' union can continue going back and forth while trying to figure out how many games to play during a shortened 2020 season.

The coronavirus does not care.

According to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, eight people — five players and three staffers — have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Phillies' complex in Clearwater, Florida. That number could grow, according to Salisbury, with "a significant number of team personnel" still waiting for test results. This news illustrates how risky the idea of staging a season of any length is.

Not long after the report, the Phillies confirmed the positive tests, adding that eight staffers had tested negative and 32 people — including 20 major and minor league players — were awaiting test results. The team closed its facility indefinitely.

Baseball is obviously not the only American professional sports league attempting to safely get a season off the ground, and most of the others have already finalized their return-to-play plans. Despite the dragging negotiations between the league and the union, there still seems to be optimism that a shortened season will take place. But after all the financials are sorted out, the biggest questions will remain centered around the ongoing pandemic and its potential to throw a wrench into any plans.

The league has been adamant that the regular season wraps up by the end of September and the postseason is finished by the end of October, fearful of a "second wave" of COVID-19 infections. But across the country right now, in the wake of the relaxing of preventative measures by certain state governments, the number of cases is on the rise. That includes in six states that are home to a combined 13 major league teams, nearly half the league.

Florida and Arizona, among those six states, are home to every team's spring training facility. A second round of spring training is being discussed to begin in approximately a week, though teams could have the option of holding that spring training at their home ballparks.

Plenty of players continue to voice their concerns about playing during a pandemic and exposing themselves and their families to health risks. While unknown whether it's included in the latest proposals exchanged between the two parties this week, previous proposals have included the ability for concerned players to opt out of a season.

RELATED: Why Rick Renteria refuses to complain about coronavirus' impact on baseball

Major League Baseball, to its credit, has taken the matter seriously and laid out a massive amount of proposed measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Some, such as bans on high fives, Gatorade coolers, mound visits, spitting and on-site showers are significant to players' daily routines, with some players seeing them as excessive.

In other areas, however, there are red flags. The league's testing plan does not include daily testing and, in most cases, would not return test results for 24 hours, setting up the potential for a scenario where a player could be asymptomatic, test positive, play a game, expose two teams' worth of players and staff, get on a plane, travel to another city and arrive at another ballpark before knowing he tested positive.

The league's health-and-safety proposals also failed to follow the contact-tracing guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lay out that anyone who comes into contact with someone who tests positive is recommended to self-quarantine. Major League Baseball will not make that recommendation to its players, fearful of a team's season or the season as a whole coming to a halt.

And while strict measures would be taken to limit the movement of members of a team's traveling party while on the road, players would not be subject to those restrictions, rather merely encouraged.

But even pages' worth of preventative measures could come up short. Salisbury noted that the Phillies thoroughly cleaned their facility and had strict health-and-safety precautions in place for the players who were working out there. And still, an outbreak.

It might simply not be possible, given the state of the pandemic in this country, or without incredibly strict measures such as the limits on player movement that were discussed as part of a plan for a quarantined season earlier this year, to play professional sports without a sizable risk to the health of those involved.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this very week that he "would avoid" playing the postseason to the end of October, as usual. In a separate interview, he said "it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall" without daily testing and strict limits on the movement of those involved.

So while the current and ongoing delay to the 2020 baseball season is now only partially the fault of the pandemic, with the fight between the league and the union further delaying a restart that was hoped to begin on July 4, the continued spread of the virus — which has now reached Major League Baseball — could be the reason the season starts only to stop again, or perhaps doesn't start at all.

 

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