“Athletes are young and healthy, let them get it.”
“We need everyone to get COVID so we acquire herd immunity.”
“Who cares, I just want baseball back.”
Welcome to America, where all manner of people are currently standing on their heads to justify the return of pro sports during a global pandemic the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in over 100 years. Nevermind that cases are spiking in hot spots all over the country (in many places that boast MLB teams), or that experts estimate that we could soon reach 100,000 new cases per day, or that Texas Children’s Hospital is having to treat adult patients to free up space for COVID cases in other hospitals.
If you’re one of the people shrugging about MLB players risking their health and the health of those around them because you’re sick of sports documentaries and want some live games, and anyway MLB players are all young and in great shape and not at increased risk of COVID complications, you should know about Tommy Hottovy.
At 38 years old, Tommy Hottovy is the young hot-shot pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs. He’s in great shape and let’s just say that when my radio co-host (also a woman) and I were told we were going to interview him at Cubs Con in January, we weren’t upset about it.
Hottovy is now 45-days out of contracting COVID-19. Yesterday, he spoke via ZOOM call to reporters. He detailed how he lost 18 pounds in 30 days, didn’t sleep between midnight and 6 am every night, had fevers that broke 100° six straight days.
Hottovy says he spoke out yesterday because he wants people to learn from his ordeal. But at this point, it seems Major League Baseball is past learning anything.
Despite COVID “embers,” as White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany likes to call them (or, as I refer to them, “places you should not fucking go under any circumstances right now,”), spiking in places like Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Tampa, MLB is still pushing ahead with a bubble-less plan to play baseball this year. Consequences, and there will be consequences, be damned.
Today, Mexico announced it has shut down pro baseball for the first time in 95 years, saying the Mexican Baseball League could not guarantee the safety of its fans or players. Taking people’s safety into account is a novel idea. Last week in Chicago, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenny was publicly contemplating how many fans the team would be allowed to cram into Wrigley Field. That notion was quickly smacked back down by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but it’s just another example of baseball barreling head first into the unknown with little regard for anything but profit.
Yesterday, the positive test rate for Arizona, where the Diamondbacks are based and where plenty of MLB players reside in the offseason, was 28 percent. TWENTY-EIGHT PERCENT! That means nearly a third of those tested were coming up positive. Yet Major League Baseball is ready and willing to let guys from places like Arizona, Texas, and Florida get onto hermetically-sealed aluminum tubes and fly all over the country, taking whatever viral loads they’re bringing with them, to cities like Chicago and New York, where citizens took COVID extremely seriously and managed to get the infection rate under control.
And sports media, for the most part, seems to be extremely fine with all this, because so many are just going about reporting on spin rates and injuries and camp rosters as if 2020 is any other season.
Let’s be clear: This is not like any other season.
COVID-19 took a young, healthy guy like Tommy Hottovy and so severely decimated his health and well-being that he broke down in tears just remembering it. And Hottovy had access to the best medical care around: He was treated at Northwestern University in Chicago and had the support of the Cubs and family to get him through. But what about all the people MLB is going to leave in its wake that don’t have the same resources Hottovy did? What kind of care are the clubhouse attendants, team bus drivers, and food service workers going to get? What about the people who clean the clubhouses and do the players laundry?
Sure, they’ll all get tested. But what happens when those tests come back positive? Then what? How many of them will get access to the breathing equipment and antibodies
Hottovy was treated with?
Remember, there is no “bubble” involved in baseball’s plan. And given that even the bubbles aren’t working, what positive outcome is MLB possibly imagining?
We should also take into consideration that many MLB athletes, at least anecdotally, are extremely conservative. Who knows where they fall on the efficacy of wearing masks? Even players who don’t take a political stance on COVID-19 could be inadvertently spreading it around. Earlier this week, Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana posted a picture of himself with Tom Brady on Instagram. Brady has been working out with his new Bucs teammates against the advice of team doctors and generally refusing to social distance.
I’m someone who posts that obnoxious Rogers Hornsby quote on Twitter every year after the season ends and sits, every winter, looking out the window and waiting for Spring. That is to say, I have a deep and abiding love for baseball. It’s not just the sound of Summer, it IS my summer.
But someone has to sound the alarm here. We can’t keep running headlong into “everything is going to be OK” when it is not at all clear that things are going to be OK. Despite entitled fans loving to claim “I pay your salary!” to ballplayers on social media, the bottom line is that ballplayers don’t owe us anything. They certainly don’t owe us their health or the well-being of their families and friends just to alleviate our boredom with Netflix.
This isn’t going to work. People are going to get sick. People may die. Rob Manfred, for the good of your players and your sport, shut it down.