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Risking Tragedy, MLB Must Cancel An Infected Season

“With the Marlins and other teams already impacted by the coronavirus, it’s time to end baseball’s ill-fated, non-Bubble experiment and end a shortened season before human lives are threatened.”

Jay Mariotti

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When they tell the story of baseball’s demise in Americana — a movie that will last three hours and 37 minutes even with speed-up mandates — the final blow might be the summer of 2020. That’s when the powers-that-be restarted a season, recklessly and dangerously, in a raging pandemic.

No rigid isolation. No medically sealed bio-Bubble like the smart NBA people. Nah, just the same bullheaded idiocy that has plagued the industry for decades.

This is a rerun of how the U.S. government botched its response to the coronavirus crisis: wealth over health, pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t, then fail miserably and historically. And why would anyone at all be surprised? As it is, the owners and so-called commissioner have allowed Major League Baseball, once dignified and thriving, to devolve into clumsy and dawdling irrelevance. Who of right mind held faith they’d pull off this lunacy without immediate COVID-19 attacks?

Only days into a shortened MLB season that never should have been attempted, the pandemic has caused predictable chaos. A virus breakout involving at least 14 players and staff members has paralyzed the Miami Marlins, leaving hundreds of big-leaguers and their families to ask in a panic state, “Are we next?’’ And yet, during a conference call Monday, owners refused to consider cancelling the season, instead continuing to play Russian roulette with a virus that is openly laughing at them and ready to create more havoc.

Juan Soto home run ties it at 3-3 in the 8th in the Nationals' 7-3 NLDS  Game 5 win over the Dodgers - Federal Baseball

As usual, MLB is taking a devil-may-care attitude. Let the games go on so the Brinks trucks can make their deliveries to teams and TV networks. Miami’s first two home games were postponed, along with a game between the Phillies and New York Yankees in Philadelphia, where the Marlins think they contracted the virus — unless they caught it in South Florida, a virus hotspot thanks to legions of COVID-iots in that state, or perhaps in Atlanta, where they played an exhibition game last Wednesday and where Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ star first baseman, prayed for his life after his virus-triggered fever rose to 104.5 degrees. The next day, one of the sport’s young cornerstones, Juan Soto, tested positive, further darkening Opening Night for a Washington Nationals team that couldn’t celebrate its first World Series title. Since then, the Cincinnati Reds had to send two regulars home after another tested positive.

There you have it, a wildfire in just five days, as predicted here.

And through those virus flames, MLB still is going to play ball.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. My level of concern went from an eight to a 12,’’ said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has an underlying health condition — cardiac surgery last fall — and doesn’t want his team traveling to a scheduled series in Miami starting Friday.

Do the quarantine math. Check the schedules. Count how many weeks and months are left until the postseason. When infectious disease experts haven’t even begun to weaken the fury of the coronavirus, tell me, how is a corporate weakling such as Rob Manfred going to win this Whack-a-Mole game? Kanye West has a better chance of becoming President than MLB has of denting the virus, much less surviving it until late October. Already, the competitive integrity of a shotgun season — 60 games in 66 days — is in shambles.

Here's what MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said it would take to pause 2020  MLB season over COVID-19 concerns - TownTalk Radio

So what is the point of even trying to continue a futile exercise? Please call off this debacle — NOW —  before a rapid procession of players, older managers and coaches, support staff members and their loved ones follow the Marlins in falling ill and spreading the virus in communities. Manfred and his predecessor as commissioner, Bud Selig, have made regrettable decisions amid baseball’s free-fall since the early ‘90s. Trying to recoup $4 billion with a 60-game regular season and expanded playoffs, as the virus continues to hospitalize and kill victims throughout America and Planet Earth, is the worst decision yet. Manfred and the owners, in protective bunkers with their accountants, are risking the lives of young people — mere employees, in their eyes — and asking them try to save the game the owners screwed up. This after trying to gouge the Players Association with a second pay cut during a preseason labor battle that America was in no mood to watch. If the owners continue to push the virus envelope and plod on, they risk venturing into criminal territory.

What if someone dies because a baseball season was played?

Have the owners even thought about it? What if there is a mass player revolt, starting with the sport’s current face, Mike Trout, whose wife is expecting their first child next week?

“Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,’’ tweeted pitcher David Price, who opted out of his season with the Los Angeles Dodgers to protect his family from the virus. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.’’

Health experts agree with Price. `This is off-the-charts bad,’’ leading epidemiologist Zachary Binney, a frequent critic of sport’s return to live events, told the Washington Post. “MLB should probably shut the Marlins down for two weeks, shut the Phillies down for five days and … hope there isn’t a broader problem.’’

Continuing on Twitter, Binney wrote, “This is absolutely insane … if possible, the literal stupidest possible plan. You have a raging outbreak, anyone in the Marlins traveling party could be infected regardless of how their tests come back. So by all means, just bring that on the road to Baltimore!”

Thirteen Miami Marlins test positive for COVID-19 as MLB season, U.S.  pandemic approach in general look dicey.

A shutdown? No chance, Zach. As of now, the Marlins are headed to Baltimore, where, even if they barely can field a lineup with players still in quarantine, they are expected to play Wednesday and Thursday against an Orioles team that now must worry about infections. Anyone expecting to hear from Manfred, who loves to hide from public view in difficult times, instead got a statement from MLB:

“The members of the Marlins’ traveling party are self-quarantining in place while awaiting the outcome of those results. Major League Baseball has been coordinating with the Major League Baseball Players Association; the Marlins; the Orioles; the Marlins’ weekend opponent, the Phillies; and Club medical staffs, and will continue to provide updates as appropriate.”

Meanwhile, other teams are being sized up by COVID-19, which is licking its chops, ready to pounce in clubhouses across a diseased land. “I don’t believe there is going to be any panic,’’ Dodgers president Stan Kasten said on Sirius XM, speaking from a state, California, that has been ravaged by the virus. “My understanding from talking with other teams is that it’s business as usual at least for every other team.’’

Good luck to all. “Guys are talking. There’s heightened awareness,’’ said Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin, “because what everybody was hoping didn’t happen, did. … We’ll see if it gets worse’’

When word came Sunday that four Marlins players — including the day’s starting pitcher, Jose Urena — had tested positive, MLB should have shut down the game. There was no thought of that, not even from within the Marlins themselves, with veteran manager Don Mattingly saying, “We never really considered not playing.’’ Donnie Baseball, obviously, is not Donnie Infectious Disease Expert. He should have known better, lamenting days earlier how his team’s dugout was “a mess’’ during a rain delay in Atlanta. “We had all these guys and nowhere to go,’’ he said. “Then we’ve got a zillion guys in the dugout, so there’s no way we’re social distancing.’’

The Miami Marlins will need slick defense from SS Miguel Rojas

And every way to spread a virus. Yet, no one thought about not playing a game when four players already were sick? “That was never our mentality,’’ said Miami shortstop and team leader Miguel Rojas, who said players made the call during — gulp — a group text. “We knew this could happen at some point. We came to the ballpark ready to play.’’

No longer is that a prudent, advisable strategy. “The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters,” said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, whose stewardship continues to trend in the opposite direction of his epic playing career. “Postponing (two home games) was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation.’’

The totality is this: Everybody, go home.

All of which should serve as stark cautionary warnings for the NFL and college football, which should not be proceeding with seasons. Without a Bubble, football risks the same frightening outbreaks as baseball at only a higher rate, given the absence of physical distancing on scrimmage lines and larger roster sizes in locker rooms and on road trips. Roger Goodell is the commissioner, trying to save $15 billion for the owners this season, but the most sound leadership thoughts are coming from players such as New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty, who said on a podcast, “I’m not going to lie. For me as a fellow player, I go on social media and it makes me very nervous to think there will be a season. I’ve seen guys posting a video in a nightclub, and it’s just like, `Yo, we’re attempting to play football. That’s not going to be OK.’ You see guys working out in one city on a Monday, working out in another city on a Tuesday, and another city the next week, and it’s just like, `Dang, if they’re working out here, here and here, that means you have to be traveling and you come across however many people.’ Or you see a guy posting pictures and there’s hundreds of (people), whether it’s anywhere. So for me, it is nerve-wracking.”

He surely speaks for football players everywhere, including those in college, where the help isn’t paid but the university presidents and head coaches are making heavenly salaries. I mean, when the infection control officer of Minnesota Vikings tests positive for the virus, what does that say about football’s chances? McCourty saw the Marlins’ outbreak and said, “Those are the things that for me, make it nervous to say, `Are we going to be able to have an entire season?’ Because of small things like that that go a long way … it only takes one person testing positive, you come into the building, and that thing will spread like wildfire.’’

Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty 'very nervous' about NFL season amid  coronavirus - YouTube

MLB considered playing in a Bubble, in Arizona, until the governor got cocky and allowed the state to become a hotspot. So, without thinking much, Manfred figured 30 teams could play games in 27 home markets — many still crushed by massive infection spikes — and that everyone would safely head back to their homes and hotel rooms after spending days and nights at ballparks. How mindless can one be? As Mattingly said, “It’s a lot scarier on the road,’’ where players in their 20s and 30s aren’t too eager to follow strict protocols.

“To me, if there was a breach of protocol by any of those players, then it’s more easily explainable,’’ Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said of the Marlins. “If not, then it becomes more problematic.’’

Never forget that any scenario is possible in a pandemic, including a complete crash throughout sports. But the NBA does have a chance, fair to middling, of successfully finishing its season in a controlled environment. So does the NHL. So does the WNBA. So does Major League Soccer.

Barring a miracle, MLB will be the first league to try and fail, throwing a wild pitch amid the wildest of fires. The only question is whether Manfred will get off the mound before his farcical season turns tragic.

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BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

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Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

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