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Volume 27 No. 5
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MLB, Union Close To Agreement On Stricter Safety Protocols

Sources said MLB, MLBPA aim to promote greater social distancing and avoid eruptions of positive tests
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Sources said MLB, MLBPA aim to promote greater social distancing and avoid eruptions of positive tests
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Sources said MLB, MLBPA aim to promote greater social distancing and avoid eruptions of positive tests
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB is "tightening its safety protocols on the fly in hope of completing this tumultuous, pandemic-shortened season," and the league and players' union are "expected to reach an agreement in the coming days," according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Positive tests over the first week of play have forced MLB to "postpone 14 games and rejigger the schedules of six East Coast teams." Sources said that MLB and the MLBPA are "aiming to promote greater social distancing and avoid eruptions of positive tests." A source said that one of the changes also is "designed to bolster MLB's contact tracing efforts to determine whether someone has potentially been exposed to the virus." Other alterations to the protocols will "likely be aimed at keeping players further apart while at the stadium" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/3).

CONFLICTING CONTROL: THE ATHLETIC's Rosenthal & Drellich reported MLB investigators "do not believe that nightlife was the root of the problem that led to 20 infections" on the Marlins. A source said, "The failure to use masks, the players gathering in the hotel without masks, whether it's in the hallway or people’s rooms -- if you really want to know what could have been done better by the club, that's really where it lies" (THEATHLETIC.com, 8/1). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote it is "fairly clear that the sport wasn't prepared in the first place." The plan "needed to be better," and the protocols "needed to be more strict" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/1).

TOO LATE NOW? In Philadelphia, Scott Lauber wondered, "What if baseball, like the country at large, lacks the discipline to get the virus under control?" And that "begs the question of whether MLB was wise to stage a season with teams based in their home ballparks and traveling regionally between cities rather than adopting the 'bubble' model used by the NBA, WNBA, and MLS or the NHL's 'hub cities' approach." The NFL, which also is planning to keep teams in home markets, is "surely paying close attention to baseball's predicament." All along, many health experts believed that the bubble concept "offered a better chance for success" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/1). In Milwaukee, Tom Haudricourt wrote MLB had no "viable option" similar to the NBA's Orlando bubble, but with the schedules of some teams "already messy, drumbeats are louder from those who consider it folly to go forward" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 8/1). 

WRITING ON THE WALL: In Atlanta, Michael Cunningham wrote MLB decided to play its season with teams outside of a so-called bubble, but that plan "started leaking oil before opening day." The NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLS and NWSL all had or will have bubbles of some kind. The soccer tournaments had some initial outbreaks but, otherwise, the bubble leagues have "played on without much issue." MLB "had to see this coming." Ethically, Cunningham also feels "better watching the bubble leagues" because the bubble "means there's less chance that participants are infected by COVID-19" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/1). In N.Y., Joel Sherman wrote, "MLB is a guinea pig, a crash test dummy. ... Maybe you will succeed, but good luck. MLB is still trying to swim." There are "three critical issues as it presses forward." First, is COVID-19 "just too rampant to continue to play?" Second, is competitive integrity "just too strained?" Last, is this format "elevating injury risk?" (N.Y. POST, 8/2). In St. Louis, Benjamin Hochman wrote, "October has never seemed so far away. September, for that matter" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/2). ESPN's Jeff Passan said, “We're over two dozen postponed games a week-and-a-half into the season. Is that something that you can continue going on for two more months? This season, the plan is to get it through September 27th, and the first week-and-a-half has been so tumultuous that there is skepticism inside of baseball and in front offices that they’re actually going to be able to get that done" ("MLB Tonight," ESPN, 8/2).

TESTING VIROLOGY: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Diamond & Radnofsky wrote MLB is "pinning its hopes of finishing the season on a bit of untested baseball virology: that the coronavirus may rapidly rip through a team’s clubhouse, but it is unlikely to be transmitted to an opposing team during games" (8/1). The JOURNAL's Diamond & Radnofsky in a separate piece wrote the Cardinals episode "casts further doubt on whether this attempt at staging something resembling a baseball season amid the pandemic can continue, a reality officials are beginning to reckon with" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/2). ESPN’s Mark Teixeria: “This is not sustainable. You cannot just have, every time there’s an outbreak, ‘Alright, you’re shut down for a week or you’re shut down for five days.’ Even if you could get through it, the next two months through the regular season, what happens in October when you have playoffs and you have to stick to a schedule?" ("MLB Tonight," ESPN, 8/2).