There’s a serious implication in the headline on USA Today’s report about Major League Baseball’s increased safety measures to try to get through the rest of this shortened season without further coronavirus interruptions.
The headline: “MLB gets serious with protocol measures after COVID-19 outbreaks on Marlins, Cardinals”
Did you spot the unsaid part?
Right, they weren’t serious about it before.
While a lot of the negotiations for how to structure this season were painted as both MLB and the players’ union being equally responsible for the turmoil that characterized the process, that was really more about a nonsensical power play by the owners to try to pay players less than they’d agreed to in March.
This time, though, it’s fair to hold both sides responsible, because it’s both sides that agreed to a too-weak array of protocols.
Everyone now must wear face coverings at all times, unless they’re in their own hotel rooms or on the field playing. Why wasn’t this the case before? Have you seen major league dugouts? They’re not exactly havens of social distancing.
The report says teams “now are required to reduce the size of their traveling parties to only personnel who are absolutely essential to playing games.” Why wasn’t this the case before? Why would anyone be out here like, “sure, it’s a pandemic, but come along on this plane trip!”
Another one: “Any player or staff member must notify their compliance officer if they intend to leave the hotel on the road. The officer will decide whether their planned trip outside the hotel complies with the manual and the club’s code of conduct.” And, “while at home, players and staff members are strictly prohibited from visiting bars, lounges, malls, or places in which large groups gather.” Why wasn’t this the case before? And, sure, it stinks to have to stay in your hotel all the time when you’re not at the ballpark, but this is what everyone signed up for when they decided to go forward with this farce of a season.
And, of course, “players and staff members who have been ordered to quarantine or isolate on the road may not leave their hotel room under any circumstance.” THIS IS WHAT QUARANTINE MEANS.
Some of these enhanced guidelines come across as draconian, like, “eating and drinking are still permitted on planes, but players and staff are prohibited from talking to one another at the same time,” and “staff and players are strictly prohibited from meeting in hotel rooms while on the road (including to share food), and may not gather in any public areas of the hotel without permission from the team’s compliance officer.” These are the types of steps that are necessary to have any hope of completing the season, though, and part of the reason that it was always a terrible idea to play this season. If the only way to play baseball in America in 2020 is to spend three months treating everyone in the majors like circus elephants, brought out to put on their show, then stuffed back into their enclosures and carted to the next town, it’s not worth it.
Even with this level of dehumanization, the whole thing could still go wrong. But the reason that this is happening is that everyone was willing to risk it all for the money of a baseball season. Management was too cavalier, labor was too wide-eyed about necessary precautions, and government — aside from federal leadership in Canada — was too cowardly and incompetent to put a stop to it.
So, baseball is happening and will continue to happen, and there will either be another outbreak about which MLB can throw up its hands and say it did its best, or they’ll get through the next six weeks safely, in which case this whole thing will be painted as some kind of success. That won’t change the fact that, as with New York governor Andrew Cuomo, eventually getting things under control should not excuse a bumbling initial response that results in people getting sick who never should have.