Asked on Monday about the Marlins’ recent COVID-19 outbreak, which resulted in Monday’s Orioles-Marlins and Yankees-Phillies games to be postponed, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said (via Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post), “I’ll be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am.” He told the media via Zoom that he considers the players family and he’s lost a lot of sleep this month worrying about their health and safety.
Martinez, you may recall, underwent a cardiac catheterization last September. With the Nationals scheduled to travel to Miami to open a three-game series against the Marlins on July 31, Martinez said of Major League Baseball, “Hopefully they make the right decision. That’s all I’m going to say.” Martinez appears to be alluding to Major League Baseball postponing or cancelling the season, which they are not yet doing.
Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodríguez is believed to be dealing with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported on Friday. Rodríguez tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Myocarditis has been a documented symptom of COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health. Along with the risk of death, people who get COVID-19 are at risk for a wide range of debilitating health outcomes. Some have needed amputations, some have developed blood clots, some have suffered brain damage. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman got COVID-19 and was on the lighter end of the outcomes spectrum, but his wife said, “This virus hit him like a ton of bricks.” When he spiked a 104.5 fever, Freeman prayed, “Please don’t take me.”
Martinez is one of a not-insignificant amount of players and coaches who are at varying degrees of increased risk to the coronavirus. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, for example, also has a heart condition. David Dahl had his spleen removed. Carlos Carrasco had leukemia. Cubs teammates Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors. This is without mentioning the at-risk clubhouse attendants, bus/Uber drivers, food delivery people, hotel concierges, as well as everyone’s families and other people with whom they may live or have close contact.
Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius has a chronic kidney disorder. Marlins manager Don Mattingly deferred to his players, who voted via group text to play Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia even though four members of the team had tested positive for COVID-19 at that point. Shortstop Miguel Rojas said not playing was “never our mentality.”
Just three games into the season, it is patently obvious that playing out even an abbreviated 60-game regular season (with an expanded postseason) will be quite risky. And the players have shown that they can’t be counted on to make good decisions on behalf of the most at-risk members of their community. It’s no surprise, after all, as players are taught from an early age to be fearless and to play through adversity. If MLB insists on pressing forward, it should have an independent panel of arbitrators — ideally respected professionals in the field of virology and epidemiology — to determine whether it is safe to continue playing after certain events, such as players testing positive for COVID-19.
Back on March 11, the NBA immediately shut down when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The other sports leagues soon followed. We’re now at over 80 positive tests for COVID-19 across the league since MLB returned to action at the beginning of July, but no cancellation yet. On March 11, the virus hadn’t yet taken off in the U.S. It would hit a peak at 39,123 new cases on April 24 and the U.S. appeared to be slowly flattening the curve, hitting a low of 19,400 on May 26, the day after Memorial Day, when many people traveled to beaches or otherwise had social gatherings. Bars and restaurants had already opened at the beginning of May in some states and other states were not far behind. As a result, the graph started to move in the wrong direction. June 26 saw a peak of 47,365 new cases. July 10 saw 72,278 new cases. This past Friday, the 24th, saw about 78,000 new cases.
Even with the best of intentions, Major League Baseball needed the U.S. government and U.S. citizens to get a handle on the virus to facilitate a safe return to play. When the owners and the MLBPA were negotiating in May and June, it looked like that might have been the case. The last month has been brutal. The U.S. will pass 150,000 total COVID-19 deaths at some point today.
Martinez is right to be scared. And he is almost certainly not alone. If MLB doesn’t put the season on hold, we may see players drop out. Prior to the start of the season, 17 players opted out (high-risk) or elected not to play. The beginning of the season has already been marred by injuries to star pitchers (Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg). Some teams, like the Marlins, will have to play extremely short-handed. The Braves are without their top two catchers. The Nationals are without young superstar Juan Soto. The Blue Jays are retrofitting a Triple-A stadium in Buffalo as their temporary home. There will be more positive tests and more postponed games. At some point, the season loses its competitive integrity and becomes a farce. The question is how many players will have to get sick before MLB realizes this?