If the MLB was a “days without accident” sign, it would be in a constant state of rolling back to zero. It’d be stuck at zero. The sign would be stolen, the store on fire, and the whole world wondering how they ever opened for business.
It’s hard to even describe how ugly baseball’s been in its first week back. Even on Opening Day, Washington Nationals’ star outfielder Juan Soto was a last-minute scratch after testing positive for the coronavirus. He’s now been tested at least ten times since then with some suspecting his initial test was a false positive.
But that’s nothing compared to what’s happened since. Over half of the Miami Marlins roster have contracted the virus after allegedly, at least a few players traveled around Atlanta last week. Though players knew at least someone tested positive, they decided themselves to play a game against the Phillies, who are now seeing positive cases among their staff.
It’s created a domino effect that’s had the Marlins shut down for days, extending at least into tomorrow, and forced the Phillies to pause and quarantine. Yesterday, six teams were unable to play – including the Cardinals and Brewers – due to players testing positive for the virus. 20% of the league had to sit out. MLB’s solution is as many double-headers as an already chaotic schedule will allow, agreeing with the union to play seven inning games in all double-headers this season.
The league is reaching a tipping point. Rules have changed so much – the NL has a DH, extra innings begin with a runner on 2nd base, now the seven-inning rule – nearly a quarter of the league is sitting out and many players simply don’t feel safe. Marlins’ second basemen Isan Diaz, one of the few players who haven’t tested positive, is reportedly considering opting out this season. Hard to blame him (Update: he’s opted out).
And the Pirates’ offense is terrible. Ok, that’s a non-coronavirus issue but I’m mad about that too.
Commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly said yesterday the league is in danger of shutting down if things don’t improve.
BREAKING: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on Friday that if the sport doesn’t do a better job of managing the coronavirus, it could shut down for the season, sources tell ESPN.
Story at ESPN: https://t.co/o0OL7JzowN
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2020
All of this is happening while the NFL watches. They’ve had the luxury of being the last to react. Their season was over when the pandemic began. For months, their schedule went largely unchanged, other than Roger Goodell sitting in his Grandpa chair during the draft. They’re the last sport to return to play with the MLB, NHL, and NBA back in action. They’ll have an opportunity to avoid baseball’s pitfalls but there’s an open question of if the season will be viable.
For logistical reasons, the MLB and NFL opted against the bubble. The NHL and NBA opted for it and so far, with much better results. Their tightly controlled environment have produced zero positive cases and no ensuing rule changes or league alterations. There’s still a chance things go south – the bubble either works really well (the virus is kept out) or really poor (the virus gets in and spreads all over) – but it’s sure looking like the better option.
Putting in the NFL in a bubble would’ve been a much tougher challenge. More players, more teams, longer season, the difficulty of finding a centralized location. Tougher to find football fields than basketball courts. But the reality is the bubble may be the only way sports can work in this climate. A “normal” environment of players coming and going all but guarantees players will test positive and spread the virus around. It’s not a question of “if” but a question of how soon and how bad.
Maybe the NFL makes it longer than baseball. But that’s a bar so low you couldn’t limbo under it. Baseball couldn’t last a week. Can the NFL last 17?