On July 23, 2020, Major League Baseball (MLB) began its season. The billion-dollar generating American pastime was going to show America, along with other sporting leagues, how the country could begin reopening. At the very least, sporting events might offer up a little of the bread and circuses needed to mollify millions of Americans who are out of work, unable to find child care, and left bereft of resources by a do-nothing Senate.
Of all the organized sports that were setting up to return amid the coronavirus pandemic, MLB boasted about the fact that games were usually played outdoors in open-air fields, and the players—in comparison to other sports like basketball and football—made much less contact and didn’t need to spend too much time gathered closely together. As of this story on July 31, eight days after the start of the 2020 shortened season, 20% of MLB is postponed due to numerous COVID-19 outbreaks.
As the league came closer and closer to reopening, stories began to come out of various players who had yet to report to camp. In many cases, these players had received a positive COVID-19 test and were staying away. Some players had symptoms; others did not. Some players spoke openly about dealing with COVID-19 and warned others that the experience was not the same as having the flu. And then the season began. Right away things were problematic as you could see some players and some coaches wearing face masks while others did not, or half-wore those masks, or only wore them occasionally. The loosey-goosey stylings seemed like a recipe for disaster. They have been.
We now know that the Miami Marlins decided to play through their opening weekend even though they had received positive COVID-19 tests. The results have been bad. Far more than a dozen players and staff on the Marlins tested positive for the virus*—and the Philadelphia Phillies, the team they played that opening weekend, are now in quarantine with positive COVID-19 tests of their own to contend with. Baseball players, like players of most professional sports, are not having the same problems the rest of the country is having in getting access to tests and expedited lab results—and still they haven’t been able to slow the outbreaks over a handful of days.
On Friday, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals had to postpone at least the first game of their weekend series after two St. Louis players tested positive for the virus. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told The New York Times: “We knew that we were going to have positives at some point in time. I remain optimistic that the protocols are strong enough that it will allow us to continue to play, even through an outbreak like this, and complete our season.”
But MLB players, who have a great union and have also been very critical of ownership’s tone-deaf responses before the season began, are beginning to question how well these billionaire owners are protecting their million-dollar investments. All-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs came out and slammed the league’s weak measures of protection. On Thursday he tweeted out: “Player safety? @mlb let’s sit around for 8 plus hours inside the clubhouse.. I’m sure I can find that somewhere in the 113 page player safety protocol.”
Player safety? @mlb let’s sit around for 8 plus hours inside the clubhouse.. I’m sure I can find that somewhere in the 113 page player safety protocol.
— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) July 30, 2020
Rizzo is just the latest high-profile player to go directly for the league’s higher-ups for their handling of this reopening. Los Angeles Dodger and all-star pitcher David Price opted to sit out this season, and after the news of the outbreak in the Miami Marlins clubhouse, made waves by writing: “Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed” on his Twitter page.
Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.
— David Price (@DAVIDprice24) July 27, 2020
Going into the second weekend of this 2020 baseball season, six teams are now postponing and quarantining. That’s 20% of the league unable to play. The cascading effect of schedules being thrown about like this means that other teams have had to postpone or suspend games in the hopes of making them up some other time. So far no one has gotten seriously ill (as far as we know) due to the virus and the reopening of baseball. However, there have been stories beginning to come up speaking about coronavirus-related issues for players. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus before the start of the Sox summer camp, is believed to have an inflammatory heart condition that many believe to be a result of having the virus.
Meanwhile, Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos are going into classrooms to spit in the faces of fourth graders while praising them for risking their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
*The number of Marlins players and staff that have tested positive as of this story is reported to be 18.