One can apply lots of adjectives to the 2020 MLB season to date; none of those adjectives are complimentary. From the time in March when MLB shut down Spring Training through today, the folks in charge have stumbled in random directions arriving where they are today which is in the vicinity of Bizarro World.
MLB – and the MLBPA because the union is equally culpable here – had 4 months to become as knowledgeable as possible about COVID-19 so that they could come up with an efficient, effective and manageable plan for the conduct of a truncated 2020 season. Instead, they got into a 4-month spitting contest over money and relegated the logistics of the season to “Priority Seven”. The health and safety protocol is more than 100 pages long; it was effective for 4 days at the most.
Let us look at one key point in that protocol:
“In order for a 2020 season to be conducted safely, Covered Individuals must exercise care while away from Club facilities to avoid situations in which the risk of contracting the virus is elevated, such as participating in activities involving large groups or indoor activities in which people are in close proximity to one another (e.g., crowded restaurants, bars, clubs). MLB will not formally restrict the activities of Covered Individuals when they are away from Club facilities, but will expect the Covered Individuals on each Club to ensure that they all act responsibly.” [“Covered Individuals” are players, coaches, managers, team officials and etc.]
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the firewall between the coronavirus and Major League Baseball. That is what 4 months of thoughtful planning and consultation with experts came up with to keep MLB players away from COVID-19 and healthy enough to play the games without the teams themselves becoming super spreaders in society. If any of these jamokes were compensated on a “pay for performance” basis, they would fall below the poverty line for 2020.
On the fourth day of the season, the Marlins knew they had some players in the clubhouse who had tested positive. The team voted to play their scheduled game that day and it was not until after the fact that it was known that almost half of the Marlins’ team was carrying the virus. So much for “testing and tracing” because none of that matters even a little bit if teams can decide on their own to put known carriers out there on the field for a game.
MLB has taken about a week to “conduct an investigation” into how those Marlins’ players contracted the virus and spread it within the clubhouse. Guess what that investigation determined:
- The “Covered Individuals” who got infected did not obey the strictures of the health and safety protocols.
- The “Covered Individuals” were congregating in the hotel bar and going out for other social activities.
- It was the “poor decisions” made by the ‘Covered individuals” that caused the problems.
Excuse me, but that conclusion was a foregone conclusion before the investigation began – and by the way it was probably conducted by Inspector Clouseau. Were the findings otherwise , the value and the efficacy of the 100-plus pages of prose that make up the health and safety protocol would be exposed as worthless. It seems to be that the Mensa Members who created that document neglected to put any enforcement mechanisms in there. [Aside: That omission lands equally in the laps of MLB and the MLBPA!] There are probably 1500 “Covered Individuals” spoken to by the protocol and the best that the mavens can come up with is that they will all “exercise care” and “act responsibly”.
Now, ask yourselves what sort of remedy/change of procedures MLB and the MLBPA might have come up with as a result of that “investigation”. Here it is:
- Teams need to have a designated “compliance officer” who travels with the team to make sure that the “Covered Individuals” begin to exercise care and act responsibly.
There is a perfectly good word for “compliance officer” that every high school kid knows. That word is “chaperone” – – and the compliance officers in MLB are not likely to be significantly more effective than the chaperones at your run-of-the-mill high school junior proms.
There are baseball rules and there are health and safety protocol rules and those rules are of no value if there is no enforcement mechanism. Take the umpires off the field and let the players decide who is safe and who is out on close plays at the bases. It will not work. The same is true here; there are protocol rules that were awfully loose and had zero enforcement mechanism attached; players flouted those protocol rules and got sick and then got others sick. Everyone is to blame here; no one comes out looking like anything but an [rhymes with “glass bowl”].
Want another example of a protocol rule that makes sense but is being ignored with no consequences? According to the protocol, players are not supposed to spit. Have you watched any of the games on TV? What are the consequences for players – or umpires – who spit during the games? There exists “indisputable video evidence” – to borrow a phrase from the NFL rule book – that the spitting rule is not being followed and there have not been any punishments handed out. The lack of enforcement there points up a double problem:
- Spitting is an act that assists the spread of the coronavirus. More spitting means an increased probability that an infected “Covered Individual” can infect another as yet uninfected “Covered Individual”. For the record, that is the antithesis of the purpose of the health and safety protocol.
- When a rule exists and it is so obviously violated without any punishment or sanction at all, that creates an environment of contempt for other rules in the protocol. If the situation calls for nominal adults to require a chaperone, the last thing you need is for those nominal adults to view the body of rules with contempt.
The MLB 2020 season is a mess. There may be ways for the leagues to get out of the mess and proceed with the season without embarrassing themselves daily – – but it will not be easy. The fact is that the coronavirus is still widespread in the US and these “Covered individuals” are going to have to travel over under around and through places where people who have nothing to do with MLB may have left viral traces lying around. Look, the Marlins brought more virus loading to the Philadelphia area as a visiting team; the Cardinals did the same thing to Milwaukee; teams on road trips are potential virus spreaders. MLB cannot evade that reality.
Baseball in 2020 reminds me of a guy at a poker table who is losing his shirt but keeps dipping into his bank account for another stake because he is “due for some good cards”. It seems to me that MLB thinks its due for some good news and just keeps on keeping on… Albert Einstein reminded us that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes.
Finally, let me close today with a cogent baseball observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Sarcasm ahead: I don’t know how baseball people were able to judge the greatness of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays without knowing the launch angle and exit velocity of their home runs.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………