How MLB Is Handling Its COVID-19 Outbreak

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“I am not a quitter in general,” Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said over the weekend, following early reports on Thursday that a second team, the St. Louis Cardinals, was facing a coronavirus outbreak among its players and coaching staff. “And there is no reason to quit now.”

Of the three major American sports to return during the pandemic, Major League Baseball is currently the only one to experience an outbreak of coronavirus among its players; it is also the only league that is still requiring travel between cities, as the NBA and NHL are both playing games in their respective bubbles. As the league works to limit its outbreaks and play out 60 games and a playoff bracket, COVID-related suspensions, dropouts, and rule changes are proving to be a tremendous barrier. Below is everything we know about the MLB pandemic season thus far, and how the league intends to halt the spread of the coronavirus among its players.

July 30: St. Louis Cardinals players test positive for COVID-19

The Cardinals suspended their weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers after one player and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. By August 3, the number had grown to 13 members of the organization, including seven players, leading to the suspension of a four-game series scheduled for this week against the Detroit Tigers.

July 26: Miami Marlins players test positive for COVID-19

On Sunday, July 26, less than a week into the season, several members of the Marlins organization tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in a temporary season suspension for the team. The total number of positive tests eventually grew to 20, including a reported 18 team members.

Decisions by team management and the league on the day of the outbreak suggested a questionable level of pandemic seriousness: According to The Athletic, the Marlins were aware that team members had tested positive on July 26 but decided to go ahead with the game anyway. To date, none of the teams that have played the Marlins have had any players test positive for COVID-19. On August 4, the team was cleared to play a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles.

MLB commissioner says teams may have to be “flexible” about playing a full season

With two teams facing mandatory quarantines and temporary season suspensions — resulting in 21 games being put on pause — Commissioner Manfred said clubs must be “flexible” about playing a full 60 games. “If it turns out that some guys play 60, some guys play 58, they have this new thing called ‘winning percentage,’” he said on Saturday. “We can sort that out.” Manfred also warned the league’s union, the MLB Players Association, that the season may shut down if teams cannot control their outbreaks.

Baseball is tightening up its pandemic restrictions

Following two outbreaks in two weeks, MLB will require players to practice more stringent social distancing with one another, per the The Wall Street Journal:

Other alterations to the protocols will likely be aimed at keeping players further apart while at the stadium. Because baseball decided against staging its season in a self-contained bubble — like many other North American professional sports leagues — it is difficult to formally restrict player and coach conduct away from the field. That leaves open the possibility of somebody picking up the virus in his or her daily life when off the clock and bringing it to work, even while exercising a reasonable amount of caution. MLB and the MLBPA believe they can do a better job of mitigating the damage in such instances so that a couple positive cases don’t immediately metastasize into a couple dozen.

Recognizing this, players from some teams have already decided among themselves to go beyond baseball’s protocols. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, are now mandating that players wear face coverings in the dugout; the operations manual says players aren’t required to wear them on the field, in the dugout, or in the bullpen. They are not letting any player not actively in the game sit in the dugout; the operations manual says that only players “active for that day’s game and who are likely to enter the game” should be in the dugout.

According to a source familiar with the investigation into the Marlins’ outbreak who spoke with the Journal, the league does not believe the team’s COVID-19 outbreak stems from reckless off-the-field decisions but from smaller interactions like shared meals among teammates. On August 3, Marlins CEO Derek Jeter admitted that “some of our traveling party had a false sense of security and comfort,” adding that players may have let their guard down about social distancing and not wearing masks in one another’s company.

At least three players have dropped out of the season for personal reasons

Two players — Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain and New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes — have announced they will sit out the rest of the season. On Saturday, Cain cited “all of the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding our game at this time” as the basis for his decision. Céspedes, meanwhile, informed his team by simply not showing up to Sunday’s game.

Although the bulk of the players who have been infected with the virus have fully recovered, the Boston Red Sox announced on Saturday that pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez will miss the remainder of the season because he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after contracting COVID-19 earlier this year. A team executive said they are “confident that he’s going to make a full recovery and that his long-term prognosis is excellent.”

How Major League Baseball Is Handling Its COVID-19 Outbreak