Steven Souza

David Ross confident in Cubs' protocol compliance as MLB grapples with COVID-19

David Ross confident in Cubs' protocol compliance as MLB grapples with COVID-19

The Cubs may high five more than the MLB health and safety protocols allow, manager David Ross admits.

“But we’ve got hand sanitizer waiting right afterwards,” Ross said. “We’re doing the best we can and trying to have some fun and win ball games.”

And by all accounts, the team has been strict in all other health and safety measures.

This week, every team’s compliance will fall under scrutiny. On Friday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told MLBPA executive director Tony Clark that the season could be in jeopardy if the coronavirus isn’t better managed, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported. The players are back under a microscope.

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COVID-19 cases spiked in the past week. MLB recorded 29 new positive tests, 21 of which came from the Marlins. Of the league total, 20 new cases were players and nine staff members.

“Every player in this league better take a hard look at what you’re doing off the field,” Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Tweeted on Friday, “because what you do affects, more than just you and your team. Your decisions off the field will put all of our seasons in jeopardy this year.”

The league has received pressure from local government officials concerned about players high-fiving, spitting and not wearing masks, Passan reported

There have indeed been isolated incidents of players spitting or high-fiving on live television. The 2020 operations manual bans both – although it adds that when physical contact is unavoidable, players and coaches must wash their hands before and after. Masks are also required for many indoor activities.

On Monday, after news of the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak, Ross said he was “bothered” by comments from “folks that aren’t in this environment.”

“It’s extremely difficult,” he continued. “To tell everybody to not touch and not celebrate and stay six feet apart and all the things that we’re trying to do the best that we can [within] our emotions of our game that everybody wants to see.”

When asked specifically about the reports of Manfred’s comments Friday, Ross clarified his point.

“I don’t know that I have an objection to pinning things on the players,” he said. “I have an objection to pinning things on my players, who haven’t done anything.”

The Cubs have not had a player test positive for COVID-19 and are believed to be the only team in Major League Baseball that can make that claim.

“I think our record speaks for itself,” Ross said. “We’ve created an environment here where we’re following all the protocols to get in here and keep safe.”

Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, no precautions are fool proof. Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy had a month-long battle with COVID-19 during the MLB shutdown, and he said he was diligent about minimizing risk.

“We don’t know where this thing hides all the time, the virus,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I think that with players, it’s just one of those things where you’ve got to be prudent, you’ve got to have faith, you can’t really live in fear of it.

“But guys are going to get it. We can’t sit here and say, ‘Oh, look at us, we’re doing so great,’ because tomorrow we could have someone walking around here asymptomatic and spread it to 10 guys.”

On Friday, the Cardinals postponed their game against the Brewers after two St. Louis players tested positive for COVID-19. The central divisions had seemed like relative safe havens up to that point.

Rizzo said after that news, the possibility of the season being cancelled is, “definitely in a lot of guys’ minds, that’s for sure.”

The Cubs play the Cardinals in a week.

Now, a week into the regular season, Kris Bryant’s comments during summer camp have proven to be prophetic.

“If we can’t nail the easy part,” he said four weeks ago, “which is right now and just our players, we’ve got a big hill to climb."

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Cubs' Steven Souza calls on MLB players to 'take a hard look' at off-field actions

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USA TODAY

Cubs' Steven Souza calls on MLB players to 'take a hard look' at off-field actions

Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. has a message for all MLB players at a critical juncture of the abbreviated 2020 season, one that's only a week into play.

"Every player in this league better take a hard look at what you’re doing off the field, because what you do affects, more than just you and your team," a post from Souza's Twitter account reads. "Your decisions off the field will put all of our seasons in jeopardy this year."

That message comes in wake of a report that commissioner Rob Manfred told the MLBPA the season could be shut down if the league doesn't do a better job managing COVID-19. Twenty Miami Marlins (18 players) have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week, as well as two Cardinals, and a Phillies coach and home clubhouse member.

MORE: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warns MLBPA of potential shutdown

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Miami and Philadelphia haven't played since Sunday, and the Cardinals' positive tests led to the postponement of their Friday game against the Brewers. Fifteen games in total have been postponed since Miami's outbreak, with Philadelphia shutting down team activities at their ballpark Thursday "until further notice."

No Cubs players have tested positive for the coronavirus since intake testing began at the start of summer training camp.

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Cubs' early success could be derailed by coronavirus, 'scary' Marlins outbreak

Cubs' early success could be derailed by coronavirus, 'scary' Marlins outbreak

Can Major League Baseball cancel one team’s season and still finish a viable league season with the rest of the teams? What about canceling two teams’ seasons?

The Cubs, among others, might like to know.

In fact, they might find out sooner than they want to.

Because less than a week into a scheduled two-month season in the middle of a pandemic, the Miami Marlins are taxing even their expanded player pool with an outbreak the last three days that includes at least 15 positive COVID-19 tests among players and two more among the coaches.

Their season has been suspended through Sunday. And because they were in Philadelphia when it happened, the Phillies’ games through Friday also have been postponed as the Phils await a partial incubation period and daily testing results.

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“It raises questions,” veteran Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. “We’re all concerned about safety and the protocols. We just have to keep continuing to trust in what we’re doing and hopefully we’re doing the right thing.”

That’s the thing. The Cubs are the only team without a positive test among players since intake testing began a month ago. They’ve looked almost as good on the field as they’ve been successful being safe off of it.

And it might not matter, depending on what happens elsewhere in the league.

“I think we all knew that coming in,” Lester said. “There’s a lot of what-ifs and a lot of questions. Hopefully, this is just a little bit of a blip and we can continue to move on.”

If not, the what-ifs start to include questions such as, “How many Marlins does it take to screw up a baseball season?” — or at least to make up a legitimate big-league roster.

For now, MLB is pressing on, despite what some consider a “nightmare” scenario for the league in Miami.

“I don’t put this in the nightmare category,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Network on Monday. “We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play. That’s why we have expanded rosters. That’s why we have the pool of additional players. And we think we can keep people safe and continue to play.”

As for whether there’s a critical-mass level within the league or within a team that could cause a shutdown, Manfred said, “There is certainly both. A team losing a number of players that rendered it completely non-competitive would be an issue that we would have to address and have to think about making a change — whether that was shutting down a part of the season, the whole season, that depends on the circumstances.

“Same thing with respect to league wide,” Manfred said. “You get to a certain point league wide where it gets to be a health threat and we would certainly shut it down at that point.”

Does that mean a worsening scenario in Miami could lead to one team being shut down and the league season persisting? That’s at least unclear. That is not expressly covered in the 101-page Operations Manual the league and union devised.

Ian Happ, the Cubs’ player rep for the union, said Monday after talking with the union about the Miami outbreak that he had heard no conversations involving any scenarios that would include shutting down one or more teams and continuing play.

And what if it wasn’t the Marlins? What if it was the Yankees? Or the Dodgers? Or another projected championship contender from a major market?

Manfred said he remains “optimistic,” that positive tests were anticipated and that he thinks the safety protocols will hold strong enough to continue.

For what it’s worth, some Cubs are optimistic, too — in part because of the Miami scare.

“I think we’ll be able to finish out the season because this may be a wakeup call that we need to stick strong and keep going on these protocols,” Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. “Because if we can, this is a huge lift for not only each organization and city, but for the country.

“You can’t think selfishly right now,” Souza added. “And I know it’s a hard thing for us to do by nature. But we have to take into account teams that we don’t like because we play against them, [consider] the fact that [not staying disciplined] could ruin it for everyone.”

MORE: Cubs, Brewers show restraint under stricter pandemic rules — but can it last?

Souza's teammate Kris Bryant took extra precautions Monday during the Cubs’ first road game — against a team that put two players on the COVID-19 IL over the weekend — by putting on a mask each time he reached base in the game.

But if the Marlins have taught the Cubs anything, it’s that their perfect coronavirus record will only carry the league as far as the other teams allow.

“This could put it in danger,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said of the Marlins’ big outbreak this week on Good Morning America. “I don’t believe they will need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”

Said Lester: “It’s a little bit scary, but you just have to try to really trust in this process and trust in the protocols that we have in place.”