The sport is grappling with the wisdom of continuing the season after the coronavirus infiltrated the Marlins’ roster. But many players remain committed to playing.
Jeff Katz stopped by the Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he served three terms as mayor. It was strange, he thought, to see no plaques in the gallery for the 2020 class, headlined by Derek Jeter. The plaques were always in place on the Tuesday after induction ceremonies.
This summer there was no celebration, no throng of 80,000 fans in lawn chairs on a grassy hill saluting the defining Yankee of a generation. The coronavirus pandemic pushed back the ceremony, scheduled for last Sunday, until 2021.
“Every day there was like this ghost, this alternate weekend that was supposed to be happening,” Katz said by telephone this week. “Driving down Main Street and seeing parking spaces when it’s usually teeming with fans, players, souvenirs, food — everywhere you looked was a constant reminder of what could have been.”
Instead of giving a valedictory for his former career on Sunday, Jeter was confronting a crisis in his new one as chief executive of the Miami Marlins. The team played in Philadelphia that day after learning four players had tested positive for the coronavirus.
By Tuesday, the Marlins’ outbreak had swelled to 17 positives — including 15 players — and Major League Baseball shut the team down until Monday at the earliest. The Phillies were shut down until Saturday.
Jeter has released two statements, making sure in both to praise the team for staging a smooth summer camp in Miami before experiencing unspecified “challenges” on the road. The Marlins are stuck in their Philadelphia hotel, receiving care in isolation, as their front office scrambles to sign free agents to fill a depleted roster.
The Marlins’ debacle caused M.L.B. to revise its schedule on the fly, pairing the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles for two games on Wednesday and Thursday while sidelining the teams they would have played, the Phillies and the Marlins. Baseball can do that? Just magically create two games while deleting others? In this strangest of seasons, yes.
“When it comes to M.L.B., this is kind of the first test on some of these protocols that we’re going to have to follow, as in changing the schedule and things like that,” said Zack Britton, a Yankees reliever and their players’ union representative. “But I feel confident they’ve shown that player safety is important by canceling these games and moving games around.”
It is natural to wonder if the whole effort is worth it, if M.L.B. should follow Cooperstown’s lead and simply call the whole thing off. Players and managers have been candid about their fears. Some decided weeks ago to not participate in this season.
They are real people — with health issues, loved ones and anxieties — and some of them say their employers are putting them at risk by staging games in 30 ballparks across the country, a two-month dash to a lucrative and expanded, 16-team postseason.
The ordeal of Eduardo Rodriguez, the Boston Red Sox left-hander, is a harrowing reminder of the virus’ power. Rodriguez has been dealing with a complication of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus: myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. He is 27 years old and said that the virus made him feel 100.
“No, no, no, no,” he told Boston reporters on Sunday. “I want to be pitching yesterday, the day before, or today. I want to be out there every time I can, so I’m never thinking of getting out of the season. I feel bad every time I see a game happening and I’m not even in the dugout.”
As baseball grapples with the value of holding its season amid this early outbreak within its ranks, it is worth listening to players, like Rodriguez, who want to keep playing. Players have the option of skipping this year, and more than a dozen have chosen to do so. They should be lauded for the courage it takes to acknowledge their vulnerability and stay safe.
And while some may have felt pressure to play despite their fears about the virus, the vast majority of players have committed to this season. One veteran, Nick Markakis, reversed his decision to sit out the season and announced on Wednesday he was returning to the Atlanta Braves.
This is their job, and they can only do it for a small fraction of their lives.
By now, it is clear that the union’s insistence on full, prorated salaries — even without fans in the stands — was worth the fight it caused with the owners this summer. Additional hazard pay would have been reasonable, too.
The league and the union were always aware of the possibility that the virus could penetrate their 30-man rosters. That is why each team keeps another 30 players at an alternate training site. An outbreak like Miami’s, which compromises competitive integrity and threatens the health of those around them, calls for extreme measures — and a weeklong pause qualifies.
But with no new positives among players on any other team — at least not yet, as the Phillies await further test results — baseball still has a realistic path forward to completing the season.
It is, after all, a business, one of many that is trying to cope with this crisis. The minor leagues, the Cape Cod League, and many youth leagues are dark this summer. M.L.B. has the resources to try, and millions of fans are grateful.
“I think over the course of history you’ve seen that sports helps heal people and situations,” the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich said in an interview in April, a few weeks into the long shutdown. “So, hopefully, when we come out of this, whoever is the first sport back can play a part in that and start helping normalize things and get people back to a normal way of life.”
That is a convenient talking point for a $10 billion industry, to be sure, and not everyone will agree. But for the many who have welcomed baseball as a tiny slice of normal life amid the pandemic, it just might ring true.
Things always seem to get worse in 2020, and maybe the Marlins’ outbreak is only the start. If baseball causes the virus to spread further, the league must know when to stop. Let’s hope it does not come to that.
And in the meantime, think of the end of the movie “Moneyball,” as Brad Pitt’s character drives away from the Oakland Coliseum while listening to a tape of his daughter singing. She didn’t have a pandemic in mind, of course, but the spirit applies:
“I’m so scared, but I don’t show it. I can’t figure it out, it’s bringing me down. I know I’ve got to let it go — and just enjoy the show.”
Miami Marlins, MLB, Coronavirus, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles
World news – GB – Even With an Early Outbreak, Baseball Still Has a Path Forward