Be prepared for Show over

2020-07-27 MiamiMarlins

The Marlins players—not team management, not health/safety experts—elected to play Sunday despite COVID-19 already hitting some of them. Now eleven players at least plus two coaches are COVID-19 positive. Where were the adults in the room?

MLB and the players’ union,” tweeted ESPN’s Buster Olney early Monday morning, “made the mutual decision to try to play a season this year, and those two entities share the ethical responsibility of pausing, postponing or cancelling if that’s what is in the best interests of players and staffers. The Marlins’ situation tests this.”

The Miami Marlins’ situation is that fourteen people with the team, mostly players but a few coaches, tested COVID-19 positive while the Fish opened the truncated regular season in Philadelphia. Including their scheduled Sunday starter against the Phillies, Jose Urena. The team has postponed at least their Monday home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.

A series postponement may not be unlikely. Which might disappoint the Orioles purely on baseball terms, having just accomplished the unlikely feat of beating the Boston Red Sox two straight (7-4, 7-2) on opening weekend, after getting their brains beaten in 13-2 to open the set.

Exactly where the Marlins so affected caught the infections is still, pardon the expression, up in the air. They played an exhibition against the Braves in Atlanta the day before the regular season finally began, and the infected players and coaches could have been hit either in the Truist Park clubhouse or in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse.

The New York Yankees were supposed to open in Philadelphia Monday night and station themselves in the same visitors clubhouse the Marlins just vacated. Says ESPN, “Sources told . . . Marly Rivera that the Yankees have been informed that the visitors’ clubhouse has been completely fumigated several times. The Yankees also brought their own clubhouse personnel down from New York City to work the game, if it happens. No decisions have been made yet, sources said.”

That was early Monday morning; now as I write it’s later Monday morning. A season postponement? It may happen. Major League Baseball convened an “emergency meeting” Monday in the wake of the Marlins’ situation. The Yankees-Phillies game for Monday is postponed, too. And, yes, this is getting quite out of hand.

But a season postponement may not happen yet, either. USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reports, “There will be additional priority testing for teams who have an outbreak, MLB officials say, but no serious talks as of yet cancelling or pausing the season. In the words of one owner on the conference call: ‘Obviously, the situation is fluid’.”

How brave and bold of them.

With the coronavirus world tour still playing and only too many people still treating it from somewhere between carelessness and ignorance, getting a major league baseball season going from any point this summer was going to be tricky enough. We knew that right out of the proverbial chute, when young Washington Nationals star Juan Soto tested COVID-19 positive on Opening Day, though he’s asymptomatic just yet.

For all the fun and folly accompanying the season’s long-delayed opening, it’s no kind of fun when fourteen Marlins test positive over opening weekend. That followed two Braves sent home after testing positive but no symptoms showing yet.

When the Nats hosted the Yankees to open the delayed season, there was commissioner Rob Manfred sitting on national television talking more about . . . his sixteen-team postseason array. The designated hitter wasn’t even a millionth of the gimmick that idea is. It only begins with removing more than half the urgency of a regular season whose competitive urgency was already diluted by its wild card system.

Sure we’ve loved it when wild-card winners turn up the last team standing with the World Series trophy hoisted high. Including the Nationals, who did it last October after a staggering regular-season comeback. But we’re not fools. We know damn well that the wild card system has equaled asking fans to sit on edge over the thrills, spills, and chills of teams fighting to the last breath for . . . second place.

Manfred and his Major League Baseball Players Association counterpart Tony Clark have a genuine burden on their hands trying to navigate the sport through a terrible pandemic that’s yanked their country and half the world over, under, sideways, down. And the big thing for Manfred opening was a postseason array that might, maybe, probably see the sport’s best teams knocked out early and often.

“If Manfred’s judgment is this bad or if he is this pliant to the money lust of his bosses,” fumed the Washington Post‘s most valuable player, Thomas Boswell, “then what chance is there that he will have the backbone or the leadership skills to shut down this season if needed?”

Backbone? Leadership skills? Like the New York Police Department brass who sooner sent a few flunky cops to trial rather than root out the bottom-top corruption it took Frank Serpico and David Durk going to The New York Times to even try rooting it out, Manfred didn’t have the backbone to bring the powers of his office to bear and drop real hammers against the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox over their caught-red-handed, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing cheatings.

Manfred slapped three managers and a general manager—whose teams executed them without Manfred—but the owners allowing it on their watches and the players availing themselves of it got away with it. You think that’s the Manfred who’s going to have the backbone to stop the season if the viral infections metastasise among the troops?

At his bosses’ behest, Manfred forced Clark and his charges to fight a ridiculous-sounding counter-battle against the owners using the coronavirus tour’s shutdown of spring training and the regular regular season to shove a de facto salary cap for the season down the players’ throats. That’s Manfred’s idea of backbone.

“The scary core of MLB’s predicament — and soon the NBA’s and NHL’s, too — is: Playing our sport is what we do, who we are and how we make our money,” Boswell wrote. “We’re going to try to do it until the virus stops us.”

From all over the world we’re learning the lesson that this is a terrible basic assumption. You get ahead of this virus before it even looks like a problem, or it ends up crushing you. South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada and Germany, with a combined population of 325 million (the United States has 330 million) had 15 deaths Thursday. Arizona, with 7.2 million, had 89 dead.

You don’t measure disaster for a country — with refrigerator trucks lined up with corpses — the same way you measure it for a pro sport. But how do you measure it for a sport? I don’t know . . . League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.

You saw it yourself watching the games that finally arrived. Enough players, coaches, managers were playing chicken. Please. There’ve been how many ballplayers who played through injuries, “manning up,” earning their praises, and ultimately hurting their teams because they were fool enough to play through injuries? What’s trying to play unmasked and unsafe through a pestiferous pandemic, then? Supermanning up?

That was before the depth of the Marlins’ infections emerged. And now emerges, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, that deciding to play Sunday’s game in Philadelphia wasn’t decided by MLB, by Marlins team leadership, by the union, by health and safety experts, but by . . . Marlins players, by way of a group text message. Fish playing chicken. Bet the Phillies clucked, too, if not necessarily with unanimous approval.

I admit it. It was easy enough to bask in the Show’s return and either forget or keep as an aside the risk that the coronavirus would have innings enough to play among the games and the teams. Even while some of the worst ramifications of baseball’s gimmicky 2020 season experiments—the free runners on second to start each extra half-inning; the three-batter minimum for relief pitching appearances—delivered things uncomfortably between the rock of disaster and the hard place of farce.

Taking a few small but profound safety precautions doesn’t exactly mean the end of the world as we know it. No matter how many would-be God, Juniors in government from the top down really do want to use it as cover for their next nefarious real attacks on what remains of our freedom.

What a country. We were the “can-do” people for so many generations. When somebody told Ben Franklin to go fly a kite, Ol’ Ben said, “Hell, yes. Who cares if it looks like rain?” And lightning struck.

We gave the world the lightning rod, swivel chairs, automatic flour mills, suspension bridges, fire hydrants, compression refrigeration, coffee percolators, circular saws, dental floss, lathes, doorbells, lock-stitch sewing machines, combine harvesters, solar compasses, Morse code, circuit breakers, sleeping cars, ice cream makers, rotary printing presses, jackhammers, safety pins, dishwashers, fire alarm boxes, elevator brakes, burglar alarms, breast pumps, and submarines.

We gave it condensed milk, light bulbs, mass-produced toilet paper, electric stoves, escalators, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles, refrigerator cars, air brakes, fire sprinklers, mimeographs, synthesisers, air brushes, phonographs, cash registers, metal detectors, electric irons, electric fans, thermostats, photo film, electric mixers, fuel pumps, stop signs, smoke detectors, and zippers.

We gave it medical/surgical gloves, mufflers, remote control, batteries, the assembly line, hearing aids, air conditioning, offset printing, the powered airplane, automatic transmission, traffic lights, toggle light switches, hydraulic brakes, toasters, polygraphs, garage doors, radio arm saws, audiometers, instant cameras, electric razors, freon, sunglasses, car audio, electric guitars, bug zappers, and the Richter scale.

We gave it programming languages, fluorescent lamps, digital computers, fiberglas, xerography, Teflon, deodorant, cruise control, microwave ovens, space observatories, Tupperware, credit cards, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cable television, and correction fluid, a.k.a. Liquid Paper. (Hey, hey, she was a Monkee’s mother!)

We gave it bar codes, the artificial heart, voltmeters, lasers, LEDs, weather satellites, jumbo jets, personal computers, microprocessors, e-mail, cell phones, the Heimlich maneuver, digital cameras, ethernet, stealth aircraft, and the Internet.

For openers.

We fought and beat dreaded diseases past, and we made a few of them extinct while we were at it. We also fought and won a couple of world wars and finally defeated the most ruthless and bloody tyranny ever to rule anywhere on earth. We also invented baseball as the world’s known it roughly since the year before one of us invented pressure tape.

You’re telling me that the “can-do” people are now the “don’t-even-think-about-it” people? You’re telling me the people who invented all the above now consecrate and abet leadership and neighbourly luddism that tries to rule us without knowing a coronavirus from a computer virus?

All of a sudden it looks easier for the Cleveland Indians and the San Diego Padres to think about winning a World Series than it did for us to beat smallpox and polio. (You don’t want to know the bureaucratic loop-de-loops Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk would be put through today to get their vaccines to, you know, the people who need them.)

God forgive me, it was too easy to get lost in the thought that the Show was really back no matter what. Even with the piped-in crowd noise. Even with the cockamamie-looking empty ballparks other than cardboard cutouts of humans and other living creatures. It was even easier to laugh our fool heads off when Adam Duvall’s home run Saturday bopped the cutout of Jeff McNeil’s Alaskan malamute puppy right in the snoot.

Well, it was just as easy to anticipate the return and itch for major league ball no matter the lingering risks. It’s not so easy or funny anymore. As much as I might enjoy the games themselves, for all the gimmickry and all, I’d rather wait till next year than continue the risk that more than just a school of Marlins have to fight the damn virus.

Mr. Manfred, Mr. Clark, show some real backbone and be ready to just say no to the rest of the season. To pay the players their pro-rated 2020 salaries, thank them for giving it the old college try, and call it sick pay. Then—assuming more of them haven’t tested positive in the interim—to send them home to safety and their loved ones.

Don’t even think about how the owners can’t possibly afford it. Everyone from the rock-bound coast of Maine to the smoggy shores of California knows that’s only slightly less of a lie than anything out of a politician’s mouth.

We went almost four months without the Show. If we have to, we’ll survive without it the rest of the year. Because too many people still aren’t wising up and living safe just yet, and too many leaders are still using it as an excuse to play Gods, Jr. And, from the early look of it, too many players, coaches, and managers still do think or act as though they’re invulnerable.

In more than one way, the Marlins just told baseball world otherwise. “[H]ere we have it,” writes a rueful Stephanie Apstein for Sports Illustrated, “the least surprising possible outcome of MLB’s decision to fly some 1,500 people around the country, from one coronavirus hotspot to another, buttressed by a hope and a prayer and instructions not to spit, in service of playing baseball: They have to stop playing baseball.”

We have to have adults in the room. Now.

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