The news of Monday: The St. Louis Cardinals, the second MLB team ravaged by the novel coronavirus, won’t travel to Detroit for what would have been four games there. The Cardinals now have seven players and six staffers who have tested positive.
That is not, apparently, over the line to shut down the season as a whole. Even after the Miami Marlins had 18 players and two staff members test positive last week. Even though the Marlins and the Cardinals didn’t cross paths, meaning there are essentially two outbreaks crippling baseball’s return.
These are the stats to check each morning, not home runs and strikeouts that determine the outcome of a game, but positives and negatives that determine whether a game can even be played. Every day brings several moments to draw in a deep breath — and hold it. Not because there are two out and two on in the ninth. But because at some point, there will be the positive test that will prove one too many.
Can the season continue? For now, it does. Question the wisdom all you want.
Step back, though, and look out three months from here. Can it even come close to being completed?
“That’s the goal,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in a conference call with reporters late Monday afternoon.
Jeter’s words carry weight because he is the head of the first team to be felled by the disease that is spiraling out of control in a country that apparently decided it was over the pandemic long before the pandemic was done with us. They also carry weight because he is … well, he’s Derek Jeter, Hall of Fame shortstop, the man who never made a public misstep in 20 years as a New York Yankee. He has been in the players’ position. He knows their experiences. He speaks their language.
Jeter seemed angry that his team had been characterized as philanderers for their behavior on a trip to Atlanta.
“Have a little empathy for our players,” he said. “They’ve been stricken with a virus for which there is no cure.” But he also was quick to add: “Some of our traveling party had a false sense of security and comfort.”
Even if it was just getting a cup of coffee without wearing a mask. Even if it was just gathering in a group and not social distancing.
Sounds like the country, right? Look at the Marlins, who are now replacing more than half a roster just to try to continue the season. Look at Florida, which had more than 9,600 new cases reported Sunday, pushing the state’s total to close to half a million.
“I hope people look at what happened to us and they use that as a warning and just see how quickly this is able to spread between a particular group if you’re not following the protocols 100 percent,” Jeter said. “We’re battling something that’s invisible here. You can’t see it. You don’t know where it starts. You don’t know how it gets there.”
We have been battling it since March. Not just in baseball. But as a country.
Jeter suggested that the Marlins, more than any other team, now understand the severity of what the nation is dealing with and what sort of personal changes players must make to pull off a season. Will that sense of responsibility spread, virus-like, to other teams? It’s impossible to say, and any honest assessment would acknowledge that there is apprehension about forging ahead.
“There has to be,” Jeter said.
No new players on an MLB active roster opted out of the season Monday, which brings the streak of consecutive days without a player finding things too risky to one in a row. But it’s hard to imagine more won’t join Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes and the like, with what we know about the data and what we know about the test results and where we stand not even two weeks into this reboot.
“The players have to be better,” Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN over the weekend. There’s truth in that, sure, because this was always going to be about altering habits and behaviors that are conditioned into ballplayers — into Americans — so much that they prove nearly impossible to curtail.
But it’s also an unhelpful way to move forward and dismissive — so dismissive — of what the owners and MLB are asking the players to pull off here, which is staging a season in the midst of a pandemic. That phrase seemed risky — even nonsensical — when it was first typed a couple of months ago, back in the days when MLB and the players were bickering over how any money would be divided up. Now, it’s reality: They’re trying to stage a season in the midst of a pandemic.
Those financial arguments, of course, were silly at the time, silly because they ignored the real issue, which was and always will be the virus. MLB neglected to go with the “bubble” approach adopted by the NBA and NHL — the latter of which has had zero positive tests among more than 7,000 taken since 24 teams quarantined in Toronto and Edmonton — back when numbers nationally were trending downward. That’s a fine decision, but MLB asked 60 players on each of 30 teams — 1,800 — plus thousands more staff to act in accordance with all the rules. That wasn’t realistic then. We’re seeing the results now.
“We haven’t been perfect,” Jeter said. “We have to be perfect moving forward.”
That’s true of the Miami Marlins. But it’s true of the 29 other teams as well. No one will say how many cases is too many cases before the 2020 MLB season collapses. But the ask now is the same as it was when training camps opened last month, the same as was made of all of us way back in March: Change your behavior. Wear a mask. Stay socially distant from others.
Can baseball players and staff — can all Americans — do that? The season, and a return to normalcy for all of us, depends on it. Or we’ll find out where the line is, whether we want to or not.