Shortly before Game One of the NLCS began, photos of fans in the stands of Globe Life Park began to circulate. Predictably, these fans weren’t keeping six feet apart, and several fans in a sampling weren’t wearing their masks properly. Around 11,000 people were allowed into MLB’s “bubble” in a county where cases remain high, and none of these people were subjected to so much as a temperature screening.
Social distancing is optional during BP. pic.twitter.com/P01mIfESbf— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) October 12, 2020
These fans with masks around their chins standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers from opposite sides of the country were violating the guidelines MLB had in place for the game, but rules are only as good as the ability to enforce them. In a piece at The Athletic last week, Evan Drellich reported that the league was “still formulating its exact instructions for game day staff in the postseason.” That was Monday the 5th. Tickets went on sale the next morning, so there’s no doubt MLB started selling tickets before they knew could stick to any sort of safety protocol.
None of that is a surprise. This is exactly how MLB operated at the beginning of the season: make a plan, don’t stick to the plan, scramble to fix things when people get sick. Rob Manfred admitted that if they just did enough testing, masks, social distancing, hand washing, and sanitation of shared surfaces didn’t matter so much. From Jared Diamond at the Wall Street Journal:
“I think there was some sense that if you tested enough, the rest of the preventative measures were maybe not as important,” Manfred said
This was just one of 14 possible games that will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington. There are going to be new cases because of the decision to allow fans to attend them. New cases will invariably lead to deaths.
The reason MLB is allowing this to happen is that it will be next to impossible to prove that attending these games led to someone dying. As Hannah Keyser of Yahoo explains
MLB is prepared to provide any and all information — names of fans from a surrounding area, for example — to public health departments to aid in the process. But ultimately, MLB simply does not have the authority to contact trace people outside the organization. And few people outside of professional athletes are tested regularly enough to determine exactly when and where they contracted COVID-19 even if they eventually turn up positive.
When fans get sick, it’s going to be next to impossible to prove that they got sick at the game. Even if someone could prove that they contracted COVID-19 at the NLCS or the World Series, they wouldn’t be able to sue because of a waiver included in the ticket agreement.
The difference between the beginning of the season and the decision to allow fans is that MLB doesn’t have to scramble to fix things when people get sick. The World Series will be over before anyone has to go on a ventilator, and no one is going to be able to trace the sickness back to Globe Life Field anyway.
A month from now, we’re not going to be able to say how many people got sick or died because they or someone they knew/passed in a grocery store went to these games. That’s why MLB is holding these games. They know it’s not safe, but they don’t have to accept responsibility. All they have to accept are cashless payments.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.