Major League Baseball's commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Players Association head Tony Clark on Friday that the season could be scrapped if the league's COVID-19 numbers continue to get worse, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. Per Passan, some players briefed on the call believe Manfred could pull the plug as soon as Monday, depending on the extent of the weekend's testing.
Those individuals aren't the only ones hearing about that possibility, either. Keith Olbermann, also of ESPN, reported Friday night that "Networks broadcasting MLB games have been alerted to look at possible alternate programming after this weekend should the league shut down."
It's unclear what Manfred's threshold is for keeping the season going. The St. Louis Cardinals had at least four more individuals test positive on Saturday morning, but early reports suggest that most of those are not players but rather staff members. Still, the Cardinals situation would seem to have the same kind of outbreak potential that consumed the Miami Marlins all week.
Manfred's declaration that protocols need to be more closely followed over the weekend rings somewhat hollow due to the lagging nature of positive tests. COVID-19's incubation period can run anywhere from two to 14 days, with five days serving as the median, according to the CDC. Infections that trigger positive tests on Saturday or Sunday were likely contracted early in the week, or even before that in some cases. In other words, improved behavior would not be detectable, at least through the metric of positive tests, until late next week.
Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Oxford College of Emory University, summed up MLB's chances of salvaging the season on Saturday by tweeting "MLB should shut it down unless they honestly think they can make major changes to their protocol to alter that. Which would be an indictment of their plan to begin with but is the best-case scenario now."
MLB did make some alterations to its protocol earlier in the week by requiring teams to hire compliance officers, among other tweaks. It might prove to be too little too late.