On the morning of July 27, news broke that 14 players and personnel within the Miami Marlins organization have tested positive for COVID-19. These 14 cases take up more than a third and nearly half of all involved with the team’s traveling party. The outbreak within the team comes just hours after the Marlins concluded a three game series with the Phillies in Philadelphia. In response, Major League Baseball has at least postponed if not cancelled Miami’s home opener against the Orioles as well as the Phillies first of three games at home against the Yankees, fearing a possible Phillies outbreak or the prescence of the virus in Philadelphia’s visiting clubhouse.
Something like this was bound to happen during MLB’s 60 game season as teams were instructed to play in their home ballparks and home cities when the season was scheduled. The problem with that is, COVID-19 cases are currently spiking to record levels throughout the southern and western parts of the United States. Due to this new wave of rises in these spots, several teams now live, play and operate in high risk areas. These teams include the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. That is a total of 10 teams, a third of the league, that are in imminent areas of high virus concerns as of now. And MLB cannot have the solution that NBA did as MLB has to play in their home cities and parks since there are too many people associated with each team to be able to put all the teams in one location and use the “bubble” method.
MLB certainly has a plan ready to be put into action in this type of situation outside of just simply cancelling or postponing games in which COVID ridden teams were scheduled to play. But with no specific protocol being made public to baseball fans worldwide, people should be very scared for the future of baseball in 2020 right now. Despite that, there are solutions MLB could use to save the season from being even more altered by COVID-19 than it already has.
On the morning of July 27 after the Marlins outbreak was made aware to the public, as baseball insider Jon Heyman tweeted out that as of now MLB has had no serious discussions on pausing or cancelling the season as a whole, at least not yet. But if several Phillies players contracted the disease from the Marlins, that could easily change.
When Rob Manfred imposed the 60 game season in late June, the owners and players granted the commissioner the decision to cancel the season in the event of a significant outbreak amongst team players and personnel. This is obviously a last resort and there are potential ways to keep teams safe from the virus. We have already seen how the Toronto Blue Jays were denied permission to play in their home park, Rogers Centre in Toronto, by the Canadian government as they fear American based teams coming in and out of their country could ignite a second wave up north. The team adapted by temporarily relocating to their AAA affiliate in Buffalo to play their home games in 2020.
The commissioner was given the power to relocate teams in the event of an outbreak in their specific market to lower risk areas when the season was agreed upon. With so many teams being in newly formed hotspots and possibly in the line of fire, MLB can and should move teams such as the Marlins to less dangerous areas within the divisional borders to keep the goal of limiting travel and possible transmission. Obviously not every team that is in a high risk area can be relocated, but moving teams that have already been affected once healthy is possible and logical for the league.
The Marlins outbreak is a massive wake up call to baseball and its fans that this virus can still slam the brakes on sports at any time. While baseball isn’t as much of a contact sport as others and preventative measures such as mask wearing and social distancing in dugouts have been taken, today’s outbreak shows that it might already be too late. And with the Marlins already possibly passing it on to Phillies players and leaving it behind in the Philadelphia visiting clubhouse, a significant spread that could shut down the season is very, very possible. There is good reason to think Major League Baseball has a plan in place in the case of a team-wide or even further scale outbreak in the league but if it is not fully effective, the sad but true reality is that a week of baseball may be all we get in 2020.
Photo credit: Baseball Essential