Rob Manfred issued a stark warning to Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, telling him the 2020 season could be shut down if the sport doesn't do a better job of managing the coronavirus. ESPN's Jeff Passan landed the scoop.
MLB has seen a number of positive COVID-19 tests pop up since the season started last Thursday. The Miami Marlins have seen 18 players and two coaches test positive, while the St. Louis Cardinals reported two positive tests on Friday. On top of that, the Philadelphia Phillies are potentially facing an outbreak of their own after playing the Marlins over the weekend. So far the players have tested negative, but it can take several days for the virus to appear.
Those issues have caused a number of game cancellations and has put the integrity of the season at risk, with the very real possibility that a team could see an outbreak and have to shut down for good. As commissioner, Manfred has the power to shutter the season if another outbreak materializes, and he might face intense public pressure to do so.
From Passan's article:
"Multiple players briefed on the call fear the season could be shut down as soon as Monday if positive tests jump or if players continue not to strictly abide by the league's protocols."
One issue that hasn't been talked about enough is the fact that individual players could be making unsafe choices away from the field. Unlike the NBA and NHL's bubble concepts, baseball players are not supervised when they leave their home ballparks. And, as one high-ranking official told Passan, "There are some back decisions being made." On the road it is likely far easier to monitor the players at the team hotel, but at home they are currently on their own.
That, ultimately, might be what shuts things down. If the players aren't taking this seriously, engage in risky behavior and then wind up infecting teammates, the season could -- and probably should -- end.
Baseball's attempt at playing during a pandemic has been a mix of some really bad ideas. Manfred and the league were clearly not prepared for a team to face an outbreak, which left them scrambling to implement changes and some new safeguards. The fact that there weren't dozens of contingency plans already in place was truly mind-boggling. It was a terrible look for Manfred and for Major League Baseball.
While some players may be making bad decisions, the league should have planned in advance for that and for the potential fallout. Instead it feels like Manfred & Co. just took the attitude of, "let's just do this and just see what happens." That should be the attitude of spring breakers, not a multi-billion dollar industry.
If baseball's season does end there will be a lot of blame to go around. Manfred will likely take the brunt of it, and rightly so.