It took four months for the Major League Baseball season to start, and now just 72 hours into it, the season could be abruptly ending.
Commissioner Rob Manfred must decide whether to delay the 2020 season, postpone it until further notice or simply hope the Miami Marlins’ outbreak is an isolated case.
For now, Major League Baseball postponed two games scheduled for Monday night, the Marlins' home game against the Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees' game in Philadelphia vs. the Phillies.
The Marlins have at least 14 players and staff members who have tested for COVID-19, and the team cancelled their flight home from Philadelphia after playing three games there this weekend.
Marlins pitcher Robert Dugger, center, listens to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., left, with catcher Francisco Cervelli, right, as they try to social distance during a mound visit vs. the Phillies. (Photo: Chris Szagola, AP)
It’s currently unknown how the outbreak occurred with the Marlins, who played exhibition games in Atlanta before traveling to Philadelphia.
As of late Monday morning, the remaining games scheduled for the day were to be played as scheduled, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the MLB's plans.
The outbreak, particularly this early in the 60-game season, is baseball’s worst nightmare.
There were only nine players who tested positive throughout all of baseball the past two weeks, and just 29 players and staff members (0.1%) tested positive baseball re-started, but the litmus test was always going to be how healthy teams could stay once started to travel.
Well, after just three days, the answer is ominous.
The game will go on, for now, but MLB has no choice but to be on high alert and cancel further games if there’s even a scent of an outbreak.
In hindsight, MLB never should have permitted the Marlins to take the field Sunday against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park after three players tested positive for COVID-19, just two days after another player tested positive.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly said the team never considered not playing, but it is now clear that was a mistake and has put the entire season in jeopardy.
Now we'll see if any members of the Phillies test positive after being on the same field at Citizens Bank Park.
“We sent a text out to our players and made sure that they knew what was going on,’’ Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Sunday. “We’re constantly reminding the guys. I mean, you have to be safe. You can’t really have a lot of contact with other people because you put everybody in danger.”
No wonder why Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper wore a mask on the field for the first time.
Certainly, the Marlins’ outbreak is creating fear throughout the industry. How many more players will now opt-out? Will Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, the face of the game, opt out with his wife expecting their first child on Aug. 3? If Trout doesn't play, how many will follow?
“They can honestly refuse not to play, right?’’ Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Sunday. “Everybody could opt out today. Again, I think we’re getting down the road, but I think there are discussions.
“I think it’s fair to say that guys are concerned about things and they want their feelings to be heard. I think it’s fair. We’re talking about health, traveling back to their homes and their families and their kids. It’s a reason we want to be safe. They have a voice.”
You can’t blame MLB and the players association for trying. Everyone wanted to see this work. The players. The owners. The fans. TV networks.
Yet, no matter how much the safety measures and procedures are followed, no matter how many tests are given every other day, COVID-19 refuses to be stopped.
The baseball season is at a crossroads. It shouldn’t be cancelled yet. But it’s day-to-day. One more team outbreak, and it may impossible, if not irresponsible, to continue.
The ugliest words in baseball are now hovering over the entire industry: “Wait ‘Til Next Year.’’
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