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MLB hasn’t shown it’s capable of handling a season during a pandemic

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The league seems woefully unprepared for the enormous responsibility that attempting a 2020 season brings.

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

After months of intense labor negotiations subsided and Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game season for 2020, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to extensive health and safety protocols that are necessary for ensuring a baseball season in the middle of a pandemic.

The excruciatingly detailed protocols, 101 pages in length, were agreed to with the basic principle that all parties involved would be able to live up to their end of the bargain. The players and all league employees would undergo regular testing, socially distance, sacrifice their social lives, and wear masks whenever necessary, while Major League Baseball would be able to procure the necessary testing capacity to test the players every other day and guarantee all results to be delivered in a timely manner.

Through the first few days of summer camp, the players and employees have mostly been doing their part. We’ve seen pictures of masked players and staff engaging in socially distanced workouts, read stories on players leaving families behind in other states, and seen many players giving quotes stressing the need to do what’s necessary for everyone’s safety.

The league, on the other hand, has not shown that they are prepared in the least to handle the immense testing capacity. The Athletics had to postpone their workouts over the weekend, as it took several days to get their test results back because the tests could not be shipped on time. The Nationals, Astros, and Cardinals also had to postpone workouts on Monday due to not having received the results from tests taken on Friday. The Astros were not tested on Saturday or Sunday, while the Angels and Yankees did not even have testers come to their stadiums. Kris Bryant claims he was not tested between Tuesday and Sunday last week. Then, one day after MLB told us this wouldn’t happen again, the Giants postponed their workout on Tuesday due to a lack of results from tests taken on Saturday.

This is not acceptable, and it clearly cannot continue if they plan to play games. Apparently, the main cause of all of these issues was that MLB was shipping all of the tests from all over the country to one medical lab in Utah, causing logistical issues over the holiday weekend. They are only now scrambling to find a secondary lab who can also handle their testing. Not having a backup plan for potential shipping or lab problems in place to begin with is a remarkable oversight, and MLB is allowed no margin of error here, evidenced by the ripple effect even a small amount of delays in results has caused. These are people’s livelihoods at stake, and there’s no time for a “learning curve.” They have to get this right.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is that the league’s response to this has been even more embarrassing than the actual lapses in test results. On Monday, the league issued a statement basically making excuses for themselves, blaming the “unforeseen circumstances” caused by the holiday weekend for the delays in results, and stating that all but 2% of the test results—86 tests in total—had been reported by Monday.

There are many problems with this statement, not the least of which is MLB trying to award themselves a mulligan by claiming that the business stoppages over July 4 weekend were somehow “unforeseen circumstances.” They want us to believe that people taking off for a holiday which falls on the same day every year could not have been predicted, and MLB—a $10 billion organization currently in charge of the livelihoods of thousands of people—could not have taken taken more measures beforehand to ensure the test results were still delivered on time.

Additionally, MLB touts that only 2% of intake test results hadn’t been released by Monday—as if that’s something we should pat them on the back for—but at least four teams said on Monday they were not given results from the intake tests given on Friday, which amounts to far more than 2% of the league. This suspected number fudging comes just days after the league made public that only 1.2% of players tested positive in the initial intake testing despite not even having he complete results yet, and we later learned this data did not include nearly 600 tests and 28 additional positives in intake testing.

So after several months of blatantly lying to the public about the league’s revenues and giving out false statistics to paint a better narrative for themselves, MLB has responded to their dangerous and reckless shortcomings in testing by blatantly lying to the public and giving out false statistics to paint a better narrative for themselves.

Even worse, after Nationals GM Mike Rizzo spoke up and simply said MLB needs to do a better job of testing to ensure everyone’s safety, Manfred reportedly considered that as “insubordination” and “jumped on him for that.”

If true, this displays that Manfred not only doesn’t know the meaning of the word insubordination, but feels that he should not be criticized for the job he’s doing, and considers all criticisms by those beneath him as out of line, no matter how valid or tame. This is frankly not too far out of character for Manfred, as we’ve seen him get very defensive when pressed by the media in the past. These are the basic traits of a poor leader, vastly unqualified to handle something as serious as this, and an insecure, ego-driven individual who cannot face valid criticism even when he’s putting the livelihoods of his employees at risk.

Obviously, the first thing MLB needed to have in place before even starting summer camp was a functioning test protocol with absolutely no room for error or delay, and clear leadership from the top with a vision of how to achieve that. Unfortunately, despite several months and endless resources available to them to have planned this all out and ensured it all was good to go, they still haven’t figured it out, and all Manfred and the league have done is obfuscate the statistics, make excuses, and try to silence criticisms.

So how can we expect MLB to put on a season? The honest answer is that right now, we can’t. The blatant lack of preparedness combined with the defiant lack of accountability and honesty on the league’s end calls into question the validity of their entire plan. Pulling this off requires a kind of meticulous attention to detail, foresight, and transparency that has not been displayed in this process, and frankly has not been very present at all in Major League Baseball under Manfred.

In less than one week, MLB has done nothing to prove they can handle the massive undertaking that this brief 2020 season is really going to be. If teams can’t even safely report to their own workouts in their home cities, the prospect of playing actual baseball games across the country in just a little over two weeks does not look good.