It took five days for Major League Baseball to be thrown into coronavirus-related chaos. After a weekend series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Miami Marlins are sprouting COVID-19 cases like weeds and throwing the league into a major crisis. The fact it took less than a week for baseball to reach the brink of disaster should be a warning to other sports planning to open without dedicated bubbles.
At last count, 17 members of the Marlins' organization have tested positive, and the team has been shut down through at least Sunday. That decision came after the Washington Nationals players voted against traveling to Miami this weekend for a series.
While all the Phillies players who faced the Marlins this weekend have so far tested negative, that doesn't mean they weren't exposed. There can be a lag between the time of exposure and a positive test. Still, it's encouraging none have tested positive yet. As a precaution, the Phillies' series against the Yankees that would have lasted from Monday through Thursday has also been postponed.
The season was already going to be conducted on a tight schedule, with teams playing 60 games in 66 days. Now there is actually the possibility that the Marlins may not be able to play all of those games, which would have a ripple effect league-wide. Would they just forfeit them? Can they be made up with the league operating within such a tight time window? What would happen if another team faced a similar outbreak? There are questions the league doesn't have answers to right now. The higher-ups seem to be hoping this just goes away and things proceed as normal with a few makeup dates.
This entire exercise has exposed how woefully unprepared MLB was for this situation. If positive tests or even an outbreak were expected -- as Rob Manfred claims -- then a comprehensive plan for dealing with them should have been in place. Instead the league was left scrambling when the Marlins outbreak went public. This should be a huge red flag for other sports.
This outbreak reinforced what we already knew: COVID-19 is a highly-contagious virus that can spread quickly to people in close contact with each other. With the NFL, college football and other sports beginning to ramp up preparation for play this fall, this should be a wake-up call to the dangers involved.
Any plans those leagues have in case of an outbreak should be reexamined and multiple contingencies should be developed. Just hoping everything will work out is not a plan. Manfred & Co. proved that was a moronic strategy.
Sports can exist during a pandemic as the NBA and NHL bubble concepts have shown so far. But outside of that, leagues will have to be extremely careful and implement multiple layers of rule and regulations to prevent an outbreak, while also setting aside a number of plans for when one does occur. Major League Baseball didn't do that and is seeing the consequences now.
Other sports would do well to take notice of baseball's failure and plan accordingly.