Major League Baseball attempts to explain COVID-19 testing delays

COVID-19 testing delays
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Multiple teams had to delay or cancel workouts today because of COVID-19 testing delays. Major League Baseball was unable to send out COVID-19 tests and received test results back in compliance with the league’s safety protocols. It was a bad look for the league, especially given the harsh words general managers of two teams — the Athletics and the Nationals — had for MLB’s failures in this regard.

Beyond the bad look it was bad substantively, as (a) teams and players not knowing test results makes it harder for everyone to carry on in a safe and responsible manner and to identify which players or personnel should be isolated; and (b) canceled team workouts put the canceling teams at a competitive disadvantage compared to teams who did not have to cancel. The Athletics, as we speak, have still not had a full-squad workout. The Yankees and other teams have played simulated games already because they did not, like other teams, experience COVID-19 testing delays.

Against that backdrop, Major League Baseball has issued a statement. Here’s what it had to say about the test delays:

“As of today, more than 95% of the tests under the Intake Screening period have been conducted, analyzed and shared with all 30 Clubs.  All of the individuals among the 95% have now moved on to the phase that will test them every other day.  The remaining number of outstanding tests are expected to be completed today. 

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend.  The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned.  Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays.  We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence.  We commend the affected Clubs that responded properly by cancelling workouts.

“We appreciate the great cooperation from the players as well as the hard work of the Clubs and many internal and external staff members under these challenging circumstances.  The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties, which are being addressed with the service providers that are essential to the execution of the protocols.  It is important to be mindful that nearly all of the individuals have been tested as planned.  The health and safety of our players and employees will remain our highest priorities.”

As was clear as early as this morning — and as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported this afternoon — the issue was that Major League Baseball did not, apparently, appreciate that FedEx did not have a full complement of delivery services over a holiday weekend. Really. As Sherman put it, “normal delivery service is FedEx, but on holiday weekend it did not pick up or deliver.”

So what did MLB do? It went to its backup courier which, Sherman reported, relies on commercial air travel. In Sherman’s words, “between the holiday weekend/COVID issues not as many planes were available to get the samples where they needed to be.” Sherman went on to cite the large volume of tests to process since it was the opening of the season, causing a backlog.

I am the father of two teenagers. If one of them messed up and I was presented with a set of excuses this poor I’d ground them twice as long as I had originally planned to on general principle.

Note that the league uses the word “unforeseen,” not “unforeseeable.” There’s a reason for this: the Fourth of July — and the fact that a lot of things close on the Fourth of July — is something that happens every year. It doesn’t sneak up on a person. MLB’s failure to see that a national holiday may require a little extra planning for a set of protocols which require thousands of bodily fluid samples to be shipped from 30 locations to Salt Lake City, Utah and be turned around in 48 hours is not a matter of it being blindsided. It’s a matter of carelessness.

It’s also worth noting that FedEx’s shipping over the holiday weekend has been online since the first of the year. Here, look for yourself:

 

I don’t know what level of service MLB uses, but there were options. Or, at the very least — if MLB wasn’t springing for the more expensive shipping — there was advanced notice.

It’s also worth noting that if you have a backup shipper and that backup shipper (a) is relying in commercial travel; but (b) somehow is unable to secure commercial travel when its backup services are needed, that maybe you need a better backup shipper. And, I would argue, maybe it’s something MLB should’ve verified beforehand.

Finally, that whole “backlog of tests due to everyone showing up to camps” thing Sherman referred to and which is referred to in passing in MLB’s statement as a means of explaining the COVID-19 testing delays doesn’t really cut it given that, again, MLB knew that everyone was reporting for camp in the middle of or toward the end of last week. No matter what its plans were for the every-other-day testing that will be done once things are up and running, it knew that several thousand tests had to be done and processed at the outset. That many tests in a short period of time were, again, “unforeseen,” according to MLB’s statement but they were not unforeseeable.

The rest of MLB’s statement is used to talk up how many tests it has done and how it is closing the gap due to the COVID-19 testing delays. At the time of release, “more than 95% of the tests” to be done on intake were done and the rest would be done by the end of the day today. It notes that results for “the majority” of the samples taken before the out-of-nowhere Fourth of July holiday got going (June 27-July 3) were reported the day after the sample collections occurred. It also adds that the Utah laboratory it is using “is operating on a seven-day-a-week schedule from July 5th through the end of the World Series.”

Here’s hoping that the league consults FedEx’s Labor Day hours before early September.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.