Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Players Association head Tony Clark on Friday that the league could be forced to shut down the season due to COVID-19 if infections continue to rise over the coming days, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. The belief is that this weekend will go a long way in determining the viability of the 60-game season, Passan noted, with local health officials being "troubled by the lack of mask wearing, high-fiving and spitting by players."
Passan notes that players who were briefed on the call between Manfred and Clark believe the season could be halted as soon as Monday. Further, Keith Olbermann of ESPN added reporting later that said "multiple sources inside and outside the game report MLB has warned its TV outlets to have alternate programming for games as early as Monday."
Although the regular season is just over a week old, already MLB has experienced a full-blown outbreak with the Miami Marlins. Six teams have had their originally scheduled games for Friday postponed due to COVID-19-related complications. That's a full 20 percent of the league. Fifteen total games have been postponed since Monday, including Friday's Cardinals-Brewers series opener after two St. Louis players tested positive.
The league released its latest COVID-19 testing information shortly after Passan's report broke. The league said it had 29 new positive tests in the last week, and 21 of them came from one team (the Marlins).
The incubation period of the virus means that more positive tests could be forthcoming regardless of players' behavior over the next few days. Generally, it takes between two and 14 days for COVID-19 to manifest, with the median falling around five days. As such, a positive test on Saturday or Sunday might have been the result of being infected midway through the week.
MLB has reacted to the Marlins' outbreak and other positive tests by ramping up its prevention approach, including installing compliance officers. While the league should be applauded in the sense that it has approached the virus in a flexible way, it's at least equally concerning (if not more so) that such provisions were not in place before the season got underway.
As such, it should be noted that placing the blame on the players (and the players alone) is an oversimplification of the situation. The league, for instance, could have taken a more proactive approach in many regards, be it testing, education, and even how it handles rain delays and weather-related postponements.
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo voiced his frustration with MLB's protocols on Wednesday night, while the team waited for its game against the Cincinnati Reds to be officially postponed. Rizzo had a point. Based on what is known about how COVID-19 transmits, the highest risk situations entail prolonged exposure in intimate settings amid large crowds in enclosed or poorly ventilated rooms or areas. Or, essentially, clubhouses.
MLB also erred in allowing the Marlins to make their own decision to play against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, even as four players were known to have tested positive. While the chances of a team-to-team transmission during a game seem remote, the league should have been involved in that decision-making process.