Major League Baseball’s efforts to quell health fears among its players, and otherwise, took another step Thursday night during a rare public appearance.
Commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on CNN and spent most of his seven minutes outlining the league’s plan to handle player safety if the season resumes.
The keys, according to Manfred, will be frequent testing, empty stadiums and prompt isolation if there is a problem. Those are all logical steps. However, Manfred’s comments again show just how many flaws exist in the league’s ongoing pursuit to start the season in July.
“Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking,” Manfred said.
Manfred said the league has a lab in Utah which typically does its minor-league drug testing, but will do its coronavirus test processing. The facility has assured a 24-hour turnaround on all tests.
“So, we feel comfortable that by doing multiple tests per week and trying to minimize that turnaround time we’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure that the players are safe,” Manfred said.
He also said all travel will be done by private charter with strict cleanliness protocols. In the stadiums -- without fans -- players will be tested daily and employees will be tiered, “so even those people who are in the ballpark will be isolated in general from the players. So we hope we will be able to convince them it’s safe.”
If a player tests positive, they will be quarantined and contact tracing will follow. Manfred said the experts advising MLB do not believe a 14-day quarantine is necessary for a player who tests positive. Instead, they will be quarantined until they produce two negative tests in a 24-hour period.
“There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility and in each city,” Manfred said. “Then we will do contact tracing for the individuals we believe there was contact with. And we will do point-of-care testing for those individuals to minimize the likelihood there has been a spread.”
And, Manfred said he talked to the governors in the 18 states which have MLB teams.
“Most governors expressed hope that we would be able to use facilities,” Manfred said. “Initially, without fans. But we do have contingency plans if in fact there was a problem in a particular market, where that team could play somewhere else at least temporarily.”
Myriad problems remain.
What if the next day’s starting pitcher tests positive? What if the test results are often producing false negatives, as has been the case in the general populace? What if a team has to go play somewhere else, as Manfred mentions among his contingency plans? Is that fair? Will that count the same as a team which never leaves its normal home? Etc.
And, of course, the ongoing main question: is all this worth it?
If baseball does start, then is forced to stop, what then?
Manfred said he thinks they will be able to convince the majority of players it is safe to play, then added that he understood if someone did not want to.
“At the end of the day, however, if there’s players with either health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never force them or try to force them to come back to work,” Manfred said. “They can wait until they feel they are ready to come.”
Unfortunately, neither interviewer -- Anderson Cooper nor Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- were sports-inclined enough to ask the exceedingly apparent follow-up questions: Will they be paid? Will their service time clock still move? The MLBPA will not fail to ask in the same way.
Manfred’s appearance was purposeful. It helped outline the league’s plans and ambitions. It also -- again -- showed just how many hurdles remain to start, and the ongoing issues should the league pull that off.
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