I understand Major League Baseball is doing much better. With the results Wednesday, MLB had gone 10 straight days without any of its personnel having tested positive for COVID-19. Stretch it out a bit more and it is 19 of 20 days.
I recognize that roughly a third of the 30 teams have had zero cases since the testing began in spring training 2.0. Players on those teams, in particular, are wondering why they would need to isolate away from family or have family members quarantine to see them during the playoffs considering how well they have done to this point living with their families at home.
I get it, appreciate it and know that it is easy for me to say to do this when I am not the one who would have to be distant from home and family. But this feels like reaching Mile 24 of a marathon. At that point, you really have to do everything in your power to finish. Imagine coming that far and not doing so.
In an article on The Athletic, Dodger players expressed concerns that their families would have to quarantine before joining the players in the bubble. The Dodgers, according to sources, are not the only team with players who are feeling that what MLB is asking is too restrictive. MLB and the union were negotiating how to handle this up to and including on Thursday.
At present the plan MLB handed the union would work like this:
In the middle of the final week of the regular season, those teams that are still in playoff contention would be asked to move to hotels even in home cities. The idea would be to isolate all of those involved in the best-of-three wild-card series, which will be played exclusively at the home of division winners and the teams with the best records. That, the hope is, would create roughly a seven-to-10 day quarantine before the teams moved exclusively to bubble-like situations.
The NL Division Series and League Championship Series would be contested in AL ballparks in Houston and Arlington (to avoid any team having a home-field edge) and the AL playoffs would be held in San Diego and Los Angeles for the same reason. The World Series would be contested at the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
As The Athletic first reported, MLB proposed three options for family to join the players:
- Quarantine from near the end of the season through the wild card, then join players in the Division Series via team or private charters.
- A one-week quarantine before entering the League Championship bubbles.
- No quarantine and the ability to attend games and interact with family at a social distance.
For teams like the Dodgers, who are cited even by competitors as among those organizations that have gone above and beyond the protocols to stay safe, I understand why their players feel like they do not have to do more to compete in the playoffs.
But consider again that MLB has not had a case in 19 of the past 20 days. What about that 20th? One case, as we have learned, is enough to shut down a team for at least five days. If that occurs in the postseason, MLB would have the devilish decision: Do you boot that team from the playoffs or insist that it brings the players who have been training at its alternate site to play the games. Could you imagine the Plan B Dodgers stepping in to try to win the team’s first World Series since 1988?
That is why the best practices must be applied to try to avoid even one October case.
Also, just how many teams will be enduring extended time away? Let’s say there are 22 teams vying for the playoffs midway through the final regular-season week. Six will be eliminated by the end of that week. Within a week, eight more teams will be out of the wild-card round. So for 14 teams, the isolation is akin to a long road trip.
For the final eight, this goes on longer, but four more teams will be eliminated in the Division Series. So we are talking about four clubs facing real long stretches away from home. Why do this? It should be remembered this is expected to coincide with cooler weather and the fear of rising COVID cases. Consider that many young families have children who have returned to school, which also widens the potential for contagion.
Once down to the final four, the pre-quarantine would allow family interactions like in the NHL and NBA bubbles, which so far have had zero cases, but also have been way more isolating than MLB is even requesting.
And you know MLB is invested in completing the playoffs because it is worth about $1 billion to the league. But the players also get $50 million and a chance to compete for a championship and — silly me — I would like to believe that beyond any self-interest the caretakers on both sides of the sport also see the good for the game that coming this far and finishing would mean for now and the future.
With all that has occurred completing this marathon would be a triumph for the sport, especially when it looked so bleak so often. Therefore, best practices must win, even while appreciating further hardship on the players. Because running 24 miles of a marathon is a futile gesture.