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MLB didn’t think an outbreak would actually happen

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Many said a COVID outbreak like the Marlins had was “inevitable,” but MLB clearly didn’t think so.

2020 Grape Fruit League Media Availability Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The last few days have been earnestly scary ones to endure as a baseball fan. On Sunday, the Miami Marlins appeared to have a small coronavirus outbreak, impacting four players on the team’s active roster. By Monday, that number jumped to nine players and two coaches. Yesterday, that number rose to 13 players. Obviously, this is ominous because it threatens the existence of this young season as we know it, but it’s also scary for baseball fans to know that a potentially deadly virus is spreading rapidly throughout one of the team’s clubhouses, affecting at least 15 people and their families.

In a hastily-made plan of action, the Marlins’ season has been officially paused until next week. The Phillies, whom the Marlins played over the weekend, have been in quarantine since then, and their series their series against the Yankees has been postponed. The Baltimore Orioles, who were supposed to play the Marlins in Miami this week, turned around and went home, and now they’ll play the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday. Before the Marlins’ season was paused, the Nationals held a team vote in which the majority said they did not want to go to Miami this weekend to face the Marlins, and now they have no opponent for this weekend.

Just four days into their regular season, MLB has a scheduling nightmare, despite Rob Manfred claiming that it is not, actually, a nightmare. Since this outbreak occurred, almost everyone it seems has said that something like this was inevitable, and this was to be expected without a bubble plan like the NBA or the NHL. And that is entirely true. Even if we didn’t expect it so soon, this was always going to happen at some point, knowing how fast the COVID virus can spread.

Inexplicably, the league had no protocols for this situation. MLB and the MLBPA agreed on 100+ pages of protocols for this truncated season, but apparently, nowhere in there was what would the league do if a team had a severe outbreak. There is no procedure they’re following here; they’re literally making this up as they go and trying to figure out what to do next, which they are actively hatching plans to solve.

The only conclusion we can draw now is that the only people in the world who did not see this as inevitable are Manfred and his brain trust, who held the responsibility to ensure there was a plan for everything and maintain everyone’s health and safety to the best of their abilities. They genuinely didn’t think this would happen, because if they did, there’d be a plan in place for it. Apparently, nobody from the league office had paid attention to what had happened around the world, and thought all COVID cases among teams would be controlled to small numbers and not spread, despite the virus never once behaving like that.

MLB ostensibly assumed their testing protocols—despite being laughably flawed, slow, and not entirely accurate—would stop these outbreaks. They probably didn’t consult any experts on the matter, considering most experts know that testing has its faults and can take several days to reveal a positive case in an infected individual.

If the league had any sort of foresight, there would have been some sort of league-mandated protocol on Sunday when the Marlins’ cases were on the rise, instead of leaving it up to Marlins’ shortstop Miguel Rojas to decide if the team was going to take the field that day. There’d be some sort of procedure for what to do with the Marlins and their roster now, and what to do with these games. Instead, we’ve got the league ad-libbing it all as we go, even considering the possibility of teams not playing all of its games.

This is, once again, the result of an abhorrent lack of leadership from the top of Major League Baseball. Not that it’s not to be expected given everything that has happened this year, but now they are playing with people’s livelihoods and expecting things to go on as business as usual.

Predictably, Manfred was nowhere to be found about this issue on Monday until he did a planned, pre-taped interview on the league’s own network. He faced softball questions from MLB Network employee Tom Verducci, instead of having a public press conference to face actual questions from reporters not affiliated with the league. This is, again, sheer cowardice leadership.

Perhaps the scariest part of all of this is that, based on the comments from Manfred yesterday, as well as some of the things other league officials have said, they still assume this won’t happen again. In the interview, Manfred touted the strength of the league’s protocols as strict enough to prevent the spread of the virus, even though the reason he was conducting the interview was because 15 people were still sickened under these protocols. He even wanted the Marlins to resume playing as quickly as Wednesday, showing he still doesn’t grasp the seriousness of this.

The MLB season has been thrown on its ears because of something that was predictable and inevitable, which the league had no basic plan for. MLB seemed to think teams could just cycle through players and replace all of their COVID-positive players with healthier ones on the teams’ 60-man play pools, as if the virus would suddenly stop after a certain number. Now that they realize that was never a tenable plan, which was obvious months ago, they have no idea what to do if this happens again. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to happen again.