The owners and players can stop the bickering over money. The Phillies have given them a reason to shut down baseball for the 2020 season. In fact, it is the only prudent thing to do.
Five Phillies players training in Clearwater, Fla., and three staff members working at the team’s facility there have tested positive for the coronavirus. The frightening news, first reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia late Friday morning, was confirmed in a statement from the team.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that “it was mostly big-leaguers” that had contracted the virus and another source identified relief pitcher Tommy Hunter as one of the players.
Now, the only question that matters is this: How is baseball going to react to it?
“You have asked the $64,000 question,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said in a text. “I think it’s premature to say definitively, unequivocally, yes or no [to canceling the season], but we went from zero infections to eight in two or three days, and who knows how many others will test positive. Eight other people have tested negative and 32 people are in the process of being tested.”
What matters most, of course, is that everyone who tests positive fully recovers, and that is the most common outcome for fit professional athletes with no underlying conditions.
“I am not allowed to know how individuals are doing,” Middleton said. “I understand that no one is hospitalized, for which I am grateful, and I just hope that stays true.”
Middleton also provided a written statement after the Phillies said that 12 staff members and 20 players (both major-leaguers and minor-leaguers) were in the process of being tested for the coronavirus.
“The Phillies are committed to the health and welfare of our players, coaches and staff as our highest priority, and as a result of these confirmed tests, all facilities in Clearwater have been closed indefinitely to all players, coaches and staff and will remain closed until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and our facilities are disinfected,” Middleton said.
Within those words lies the answer as to why the season should be called off right now. The words “until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control” are very interesting. Middleton is simply talking about the virus as it pertains to the Phillies’ facilities in Florida, but the fact is that medical authorities know the virus is not under control in our country.
Cases are spiking in Florida, where the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning also have had multiple players test positive. Florida is home to the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins. Cases are also spiking in Arizona, California, and Texas, where six other MLB teams play. That means nearly a third of the major league teams would be training in hot spots if a second spring training were to begin right now.
Even if everyone involved with the Phillies recovers, it is not worth the risk of playing a season that has already been tarnished by its pandemic-shortened length and the contentious financial feud between the owners and players.
The one and only thing the sides have agreed upon is that the health of the players and staff members is paramount. The other thing they should agree upon now is that it’s impossible to provide a safe environment from this virus no matter how many precautions are taken.
Just the contraction of the virus could taint the season for a single team. What if the season started and the five-person spread on the Phillies consisted of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Nola, and Zack Wheeler?
Season over. Tough break, guys.
But there is, of course, a much worse scenario than that. Plenty of people involved in the game would be at serious risk if they contracted the coronavirus.
Take, for example, Houston manager Dusty Baker, a 71-year-old cancer survivor and a treasure of the game. It would be devastating if he contracted the virus and lost his life because he came back to help clean up the mess left behind by the Astros’ cheating scandal.
Baker is the only manager in his 70s, but someone like Terry Francona, 61, would also be a high-risk coronavirus patient given his health history. A total of six big-league managers are in their 60s and there’s a long list of coaches also in that age range, including Phillies bullpen coach Jim Gott, who was among the staff working with players in Clearwater during the outbreak. It is not known if Gott is one of the staff members who contracted COVID-19.
It’s understandable that we have grown weary of the precautionary conditions outlined for us by infectious disease experts, but ignoring them only makes the coronavirus more deadly.
Right now, baseball, and the world of professional sports for that matter, have been lucky. There have been cases of coronavirus, but no deaths. Nationwide, however, there have been more than 121,000 deaths from the virus, which is nearly enough to account for three straight sellouts at Citizens Bank Park.