The Minnesota Twins decided earlier this week to sideline two members of their coaching staff for the 2020 season, not wanting to expose the ages-66 and 68 coaches to the health risks that come with a baseball season played in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. While most Major League Baseball players are in their 20s and 30s and not deemed to be in a high-risk category due to underlying medical conditions, members of coaching staffs are typically older, sometimes significantly older. Eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older, according to the CDC.
The two Twins coaches, Bill Evers and Bob McClure, are both over 65, and Evers underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2006. Manager Rocco Baldelli and the Twins took a precautious step.
"Rocco said, 'Mac, I just don't know if I could sleep at night if you ended up getting sick when we could have prevented that.' Are we more at risk, being 68 years old? Probably," McClure said, as reported by The Athletic's Dan Hayes.
Could other teams follow? That remains to be seen, and decisions might be made for them as testing takes place this week.
But certainly there are other managers and coaches around the league who are in their 60s or older, including a pair of White Sox coaches. Manager Rick Renteria is still under 60, at age 58. But two members of his coaching staff are over 60, though not quite at the ages of the two coaches the Twins told to stay away from the season. Pitching coach Don Cooper is 64, and third-base coach Nick Capra is 62.
Elsewhere, though, older managers — the guys making the big bucks to lead their teams — aren't planning on stepping away.
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker is 71 years old but is heading to Texas — one of the states experiencing the most drastic rise in cases right now — with the rest of his team.
"Concerned? Yes," Baker said recently, as reported by MLB.com. "I've got to be a little bit apprehensive in what I do and where I go. But worried? I'm not worried a bit."
Joe Maddon, the former Cubs skipper now helming the Los Angeles Angels, is 66 years old.
"What I’ve done is try to prepare mentally, physically, been as diligent regarding my own personal workout program," Maddon said this week, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "So no, I’m not concerned. If I had not prepared myself, I’d be more concerned. I’m not above anything, but I want to manage, I want to be there and I want to be part of the solution to what’s going on right now."
A wake-up call came Wednesday morning that no age group is immune from COVID-19, with Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, just 38 years old, telling 670 The Score that he had the disease and that it took him a month to test negative.
Numerous players across the league — those young, healthy types — tested positive, as well, before the intake of tests for the return to action started this week. The Philadelphia Phillies experienced 12 positive tests among players and staff. Multiple players from the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies tested positive. The Cubs had two staff members test positive.
As of his press conference last week, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said the team had experienced no positive tests among players or staff, but he made sure to mention the intake for Summer Camp had not yet begun.
That's happening this week as teams get ready for the three-week training period ahead of a two-month regular season and a month of playoffs. But whether the league will get to season's end remains a hope rather than a certainty.
The numbers are expected to be somewhat scary, as the NBA and the NHL both experienced a roughly five-percent rate of positive tests. But baseball is testing far more players, as many as 1,800 across the 30 teams. The NBA had 16 positive tests, but even with the same percentage, Major League Baseball could experience dozens, perhaps more than 100. We'll have to wait and see what the exact number is.
And then there's what's happening outside the walls of big league ballparks, with the number of cases skyrocketing in certain states and on the rise in many others. Just Tuesday, infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress that the U.S. could experience 100,000 new cases a day if preventative measures aren't taken.
Fauci pointed out four states where cases are dramatically rising: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Those states are home to 10 major league teams, a third of the league, and many pro baseball players call those four states home.
It will be on players to be responsible for their movement when they're away from the ballpark, and it doesn't just mean taking their own health into their hands. An irresponsible decision could lead to others being exposed, as White Sox catcher James McCann laid out last week.
"To be able to have the trust in each other and pitchers throwing the ball and if he’s been out the night before doing something and catches something," McCann said, "the next thing you know the entire infield is fielding ground balls off the bat and touching the same thing pitchers have been touching.
"There are so many unknowns. I think the biggest thing is preaching to each other to control what you can control. Be smart and take care of the stuff off the field as best as you can."
And it's not just teammates or opposing players in their 20s and 30s. It could mean these older managers and coaches coming into contact with the virus, and they have a higher risk of severe illness.
Already several players have opted out of the season because of health concerns.
We'll see if any managers or coaches are part of the positive tests, or if positive tests among players or staff spur more decisions like the one made in the Twin Cities.