The manual is 113 pages long and covers all sorts of protocols designed to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak during the course of the pandemic-shortened 2020 baseball season.
One weekend into it, however, we have learned the manual is missing a page that should have said this: In the event of an outbreak, cancel the season and root, root, root for a vaccine by the end of the year.
Instead, the closest thing we have to that missing page is an agreement between Rob Manfred and the players union that gives the commissioner authority to suspend or cancel the season if the integrity of the competition is compromised.
It is compromised, and Manfred went on record during an interview with Dan Patrick at the beginning of this month saying this is the exact sort of situation that would make him consider either stopping or canceling the season.
“I think the way that I think about it is in the vein of competitive integrity,” Manfred said. “In a 60-game season, if we have a team or two that is really decimated with a number of people who have the virus and can’t play for any significant period of time, it can have a real impact on the competition and we have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”
The competitive integrity officially came under scrutiny early Monday morning, when the word spread that the coronavirus had rapidly mushroomed through the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse during their season-opening series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The Marlins, it turned out, could not beat COVID-19 the same way they have battered the Phillies the last two seasons.
At the start of the series Friday, it was announced that former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro was sidelined by a positive test. By Sunday, three more Marlins – scheduled starting pitcher Jose Urena, outfielder Harold Ramirez, and first baseman Garrett Cooper – were scratched after testing positive.
By early Monday morning, it was revealed that seven more Marlins players and two of their coaches had tested positive and the entire team was being at least temporarily quarantined in its Center City hotel rooms. The Marlins’ home opener against Baltimore was postponed.
Later in the morning, we learned that the Phillies’ series opener against the New York Yankees in Philadelphia was also postponed, and Manfred had a five-alarm fire on his hands.
Hindsight is 20-20, but the commissioner should have stepped in Sunday and stopped the Marlins and Phillies from playing the series finale. At the very least, he should have made a statement explaining why he let the game go on and his reason needed to be supported by an infectious- disease professional.
Instead, Manfred left it up to the teams even though the Phillies had very little time to consider the situation and its implications.
“We were somewhat aware of what was going on,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Sunday after the game. “We weren’t sure with who. I’m going to say we got their lineup around 11:30, so all the homework is done on the relievers anyway. We just weren’t sure who it was going to affect and what players were going to be in or out of the lineup.”
That was Girardi’s response to a question about whether he knew what was going on over in the Marlins clubhouse before the game. It was a baseball response to a COVID-19 question and that’s the way baseball people are programmed. They think about the game first because that’s their job. As for the pandemic ramifications, they were dealt with through text messages in both clubhouses.
“We sent a text out to our players and made sure they knew what was going on,” Girardi said. “We are constantly reminding the guys you have to be safe. You can’t really have a lot of contact with other people because you put everybody in danger.”
Some things, however, are out of the players’ control. We know Ramirez and Cooper made a combined 13 trips to home plate during the first two games of the series with the Phillies and four trips to first base. That means they were in close proximity to Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Rhys Hoskins quite a bit over the weekend.
Perhaps Realmuto and Hoskins will remain virus-free, but if you are baseball and if you are the Phillies, and, most of all, if you are J.T. and Rhys, you should want all the players to test negative for at least a few days before playing again.
That is not how the majority of players think. They want to play because they love to play and they crave the competition. That’s why when Marlins veteran shortstop Miguel Rojas polled his teammates about playing Sunday, they decided to play on.
“We made the decision that we’re going to continue to do this and we’re going to continue to be responsible and just play the game as hard as we can,” Rojas said.
The Angels and Athletics were the first teams scheduled to play Monday, and Los Angeles manager Joe Maddon was predictably asked about his thoughts on the Marlins outbreak.
“I think it’s really important to trace how it occurred,” Maddon said. “That’s the one thing we have to know first before you jump to a lot of different conclusions. To me, if there was a breach of protocol by any of those players, then it’s more easily explainable, and if not I think it becomes more problematic. You try to figure out why it occurred and then you start drawing your plan up to solve it.”
That plan of attack should have started before Sunday’s game, but it did not. Instead, the Marlins and Phillies played and potentially gave a virus that has already aced the art of spreading the opportunity to spread some more.
You can say this is just the Marlins and they are going to stink anyway, but that’s a terrible assumption to make. It also doesn’t change the fact that other teams will get to play against a severely weakened Miami roster if Manfred demands the games to go on in the near future. That’s not fair to the teams that might have to face them at full strength later on. Insert your Phillies-Marlins jokes right here.
Finally, there’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but we do know enough to believe that something similar to this Marlins outbreak is bound to happen again.