Hanging over the MLB season before it began and once it did was one powerful question: What was the threshold for stopping it?
It appeared high. Very high. From Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to the players, the decision to play long appeared the only option they considered. Whether they “should” play was never part of negotiations, or thought processes or public banter. It was only “how” will they force their way back onto the field.
Monday morning may change that stance.
The Miami Marlins have a full-blown outbreak, according to multiple reports. Almost 40 percent of their active players tested positive for coronavirus. Monday night’s game at Miami between Baltimore and the Marlins has been cancelled. The Marlins remain in Philadelphia, where they unabashedly played a game yesterday despite multiple positive tests during the weekend.
“We never really considered not playing, from my standpoint,” Don Mattingly said Sunday night. “We’re taking risks every day. Every day we’re taking risks. That’s what the players all around the league are doing.”
Monday’s game between the Yankees and Phillies, where New York would use the same visiting clubhouse Miami was in on Sunday, has been postponed “while Major League Baseball conducts additional COVID-19 testing.”
The Nationals are scheduled to start a three-game series in Miami on Friday. Obviously, that trip is in jeopardy.
So, the question is if the season is also now teetering -- again. Manfred has power from the March 26 agreement between MLB and the MLBPA to suspend or stop the season, should he see fit. On July 2, Manfred went on The Dan Patrick Show and was asked what it would take to shut down the season.
“I think the way that I think about it, Dan, is in the vein of competitive integrity in a 60-game season,” Manfred said. “If we have a team or two that’s really decimated with a number of people who had the virus or can’t play for a significant period of time, it could have a real impact on the competition and we’d have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”
A few things to unpack there.
Foremost is the focus of Manfred’s concern. It’s not health. It’s whether bad health will result in major-league games between what equate to Triple-A teams because the virus rampaged through a clubhouse or two. This is his concern in what is already, as Stephen Strasburg said Saturday, a mess of a season.
Second, he again does not define the threshold for cancellation. Which means it’s subjective, and based on the conversations and comments already coming from those involved, the bar to stop is extremely high.
They don't want to stop. In fact, most, if not all players, wanted to start earlier so they could play, and earn, more. Howie Kendrick is among those who made the point when Summer Camp workouts were underway. He was asked what he thought of the brutish, three-month negotiation process between the players’ union and league which proved little more than both sides are stubborn as hell. His answer was that he thought they should have been playing more baseball since the pandemic was an issue in June just as it was in July.
A coming validation will be a generalized premise: “We expected something like this…” It’s broad-stroke terminology, applicable to so many issues. Yes, it’s a pandemic. Yes, things will be abnormal. Yes, there will be bumps.
But the size of the problems continues to rise and those involved are stepping toward willful ignorance.
The season lasted one weekend before a team on the road had to quarantine in place. Before a clubhouse had to be “fumigated” so it appeared reasonable to re-enter. Before two games were stopped because of the coronavirus. Even before play started, Canada told the Toronto Blue Jays to go try this experiment somewhere else.
The Nationals, already hosting Toronto for “road” games this week, either will not be playing at all this weekend or will be doing so in Nationals Park. It’s difficult to see any scenario where traveling to Miami to play in less than a week is an acceptable risk. Florida is aflame with the virus. Now, the Marlins are traveling around with it. Why would anyone go there or near them?
But, it was also difficult to see how MLB could come to a conclusion foisting a travel-laden season into the mix amid a pandemic was the expedient thing to do. Yet, it did so in self-aggrandizing fashion.
Monday, Major League Baseball began a transition from self-appointed salve for the pandemic to spread contributor. The questions are if they realize this and what they are going to do about it. If the last three months are any indication, the answer is they don’t and won’t be taking drastic action any time soon and perhaps not until it’s too late. They’ll call it “expected” before yanking the ropes, yelling “heave” and dragging the giant rock an inch further through the sand.
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