Rob Manfred warns of MLB shutdown if coronavirus spread can’t be contained
Written by Ricardo Waddell Lewis on 01/08/2020
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July 31, 2020 | 6:13pm | Updated July 31, 2020 | 7:32pm
Commissioner Rob Manfred reached out Friday to union executive director Tony Clark to urge that a redoubling of efforts to adhere to COVID-19 safety and health protocols is necessary or shutting down the season could become a strong possibility.
ESPN originally reported the conversation and multiple sources confirmed it for The Post.
The call between the two leaders came with 20 percent of the teams not playing Friday for COVID-19-related reasons, just a week after the regular season began. As one management person said of the need to reassert that the season is in peril without improvement, “It is not earth shattering.”
The Marlins, Phillies, Blue Jays and Nationals already were not playing through the weekend, then Friday it was revealed that two Cardinal players had tested positive, leading to the postponement of at least Friday’s St. Louis game at Milwaukee.
MLB and the players association released the latest batch of test results Friday and there were 29 positives out of 11,895 samples and the Marlins were responsible for 21, including 18 of the 20 players who tested positive. MLB has not released a reason why it believes the Marlins suffered this kind of infestation, but within the game it has circulated that the leadership of the team and players were not diligent about the health and safety protocols, especially on a trip to Atlanta for two exhibition games before heading to Philadelphia to open the season.
The fury directed at the Marlins within the game is palpable, with the hope that their problems serve as a mandate to others about the need for discipline over the next few months when it comes to not only avoid going to public places on the road, but following protocols, for example, about high-fiving and spitting during games that are being regularly ignored.
One veteran player agent told The Post, “I believe we need stricter regulation to prevent the 10 percent of the players and teams, such as the entire Marlins organization, from taking baseball down. I think they should suspend the Marlins from 2020 and go with 29 teams. Most of the players and staff, and their families, are making big sacrifices to make this work. The ones that are not should sit out and let the more dedicated ones play. They don’t have the mental discipline for this. If playing golf and going out to eat is more important, then opt out. If wearing a mask is such an infringement of their rights, then opt out. If your political leanings are more important than your job, then opt out.”
Powerful player representative Scott Boras recommended that each team have COVID-19 “marshals” to help educate and enforce protocols since managers and coaches are so invested in the game. In a directive this week, MLB asked each team to install a compliance officer to compel rules to be followed.
“We need the marshals to help players know what has to be done away and at the ballpark,” Boras said. “They need to be writing down protocol violations like you are sitting too close during games and then make the players aware of it.”
Boras actually was encouraged that even players who have contracted the virus have had good outcomes, he believes, because they are in a young, healthy demographic.
He added, “The bottom line is we have 900 major leaguers and 880 have illustrated they are good playing after a week. You have 18 from one team that had problems. You see with the other 29 clubs how well the protocols are working.”
Boras also stated the protocols are working well enough that MLB should extend the season into November to allow teams to make up lost games to protect the integrity of the schedule and, more importantly, to better allow pitchers to prepare their bodies. Boras is worried that a shortened second spring has led to a rash of pitching injuries in the first week of the season and that slowing down and keeping the rosters at 30 players all year would work as a protective device. MLB is mulling a union request to have rosters stay at 30 players beyond the mandated first two weeks of the season.
For now, though, the strongest threat to the viability of the season is the virus. MLB continues to await test results from the Phillies (who played the Marlins last week) and the Cardinals to see if the spread is worse than was known Friday. It is in Manfred’s power to suspend or end the season at any point. He was not there yet as of Friday, but decided he needed at a fragile moment for the season to ask for further dedication to the health protocols while recognizing the “or else” that is in play if MLB cannot keep the virus from spreading wide within teams.