While there are certainly many miles of financial sparring between MLB owners and players to get through before the league can return to play, issues rooted in the players’ concerns over safety. While a good portion, if not all, being the players’ anger over the owners reneging on a deal they made in March to pay prorated salaries is simply the owners acting like jagoffs, the players have contended that the owners’ financial risk is matched or exceeded by the players’ physical one. Today The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dreilich got hold of the 67-page memo that outlines how MLB will handle the physical risk and testing to get the season under way.
It covers most everything you would think, while not going into detail about some other things you would hope for. At least not yet. Sean Doolittle outlined what his concerns were a week ago, and it seems a pretty fair checklist for what MLB is proposing to get players back into uniform. To wit:
What Rosenthal and Dreilich have outlined does not address what MLB will do about long-term effects or ailments due to anyone contracting COVID-19. That of course is something that MLB can address when it comes up, as someone is likely going to test positive. But it would also do the players’ faith some good to have some sort of plan now for long-term care and effects. There’s enough mistrust as is. And no, certainly infertility and hormone ratios aren’t addressed either, and you can bet a fair amount of players want to ask but are afraid to. It’s a major question, as even a mild case could cause a player’s career to be in severe jeopardy if those long term lung-scarring conditions occur.
This is addressed. At least the spring training portion protocol calls for multiple locker rooms, and as many facilities outside as possible. With stadiums remaining empty there are certainly more options than before to be repurposed for this. You could easily envision even stadium concourses that will have no need to house fans used for this. In addition there’s a pretty stiff regiment of cleaning and disinfecting for each clubhouse. Spring training, at least to start, will be staggered as to how many players there are at once.
A curious aspect is that for spring training, if teams are going to use their home stadiums and not Florida or Arizona bases, they are encouraged to find minor league or college stadiums to spread out players. But that also means another facility that has to be regularly cleaned and sanitized, as well as testing for additional staff who have to man that venue. This one feels like it’s probably not going into the final agreement.
This is the meat of what Rosenthal and Dreilich have reported. Players will be tested multiple times per week, and will have an “intake screening” for spring training wherever that takes place. Players will be tested upon arriving at spring training, and then isolate while awaiting results. The idea here is to start spring training with a clean slate as it were, and to separate anyone who tests positive from jump street. Of course, false positives and negatives will make that nearly an impossibility, but that’s the nature of the beast here.
Players will have temperature and symptom checks twice daily at the facilities, as well as be expected to conduct daily temperature tests at home. Any abnormality there will result in rapid-result testing for that individual.
Another concern of many players is the well-being of their families, and that’s addressed in that the testing sites for players at their ballparks will be available to players’ families and area health care workers and first responders. Nothing is mentioned about what happens if a family member of a player tests positive, but one would have to think that a player would have to be quarantined, along with anyone he came into contact with. Of course, that could be a good chunk of or even the entire team.
As far as the amount of testing, spreading it out to the ballpark sites at least pushes it into the neighborhood of doable. A rough estimate of players, coaches, clubhouse staff, stadium staff is about 100 per team. A couple of tests per week for everyone still would be about 800-1,000 per month, which shouldn’t deprive cities of tests to people who really need them.
There doesn’t seem to be much mention of these folks, which seems to leave it up to the airlines or hotels or bus companies they work for to make sure they get tested. MLB will have to address what kind of assurances are going in both directions for this to work.
MLB’s outline here is pretty strict, in that anyone even with a raised temperature won’t be allowed on site and will remotely receive treatment from the team physician. The team physician will also direct anyone else who needs to be tested and isolated, as well. Perhaps the size of the roster is meant to address this, but it’s not a hard leap to envision a team having to keep eight or 10 players in quarantine for two weeks of the season with just one positive test or even one suspicion of infection with a raised temp. And Doolittle is right, and it’s not addressed yet, is what everyone is going to feel if just one player or team employee becomes dangerously ill. Not just for fear of the virus spreading, but MLB having to answer the question as to why it thought a baseball season was worth having if it meant possibly killing even one person.
Doolittle’s other concerns about players with compromised immune systems or long-standing conditions, as well as family members such as his own wife, basically are addressed in the rigorous and thorough testing and monitoring outlined here. The hope is that all of it will quickly weed out those that have the virus and keep them from the players and staff that are in more danger than most. But obviously, no system is perfect.