Baseball should be beautiful.
Enjoy Vlad Jr.'s first home run swing of the year. pic.twitter.com/tHcHOfArOJ— MLB (@MLB) July 28, 2020
Baseball should be a source of joy, like the way Javier Baez and Tim Anderson and Josh Donaldson play.
By now you know that twelve different Marlins players have now tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the outbreak spreads, the joy recedes. I can’t watch Major League Baseball anymore - not this year. Not when it’s endangering people’s lives.
Major League Baseball would have you believe that the Marlins are an isolated incident.
“In over 6,400 tests conducted since Friday, July 24th, there have been no new positives of on-field personnel from any of the other 29 Clubs. This outcome is in line with encouraging overall data since the June 27th start of testing. Through last Thursday, July 23rd, 99 of the 32,640 samples — 0.3% — had been positive,” the league announced in a press release.
But for all of MLB’s bluster about how few positive COVID tests there are, the reality on the ground is something quite different. According to medical experts, a person tested a day after exposure to the novel coronavirus will test negative 100% of the time - whether or not that person actually has the virus. Four days after exposure, a person with COVID-19 will still test negative two out of three times. It’s not until over a week after exposure that testing becomes reasonably accurate, because the amount of virus it takes to make someone sick with COVID-19 is far less than the amount of virus it takes to be detected on a test. And as the body generates antibodies to fight the virus, the false negative rate actually rises again.
That’s how things like this can happen with Juan Soto, who reportedly alternated negative and positive testing.
Washington #Nats star Juan Soto is getting increasingly frustrated, his teammates say. He has reportedly tested negative six times_three by MLB and three by the team_but has not had back-to-back negative tests, keeping him out of action.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 28, 2020
And that’s the key here, isn’t it? Nick Senzel and Mike Moustakas of the Reds are both out sick after teammate Matt Davidson tested positive for COVID-19. Davidson tested positive after playing in his team’s opening day game. Senzel and Moustakas reportedly tested negative, but that’s the thing - not enough time has passed for those tests to be reliable. And even those positive tests - those mean something. Atlanta lost both of their catchers on Opening Day because of COVID-19. Kansas City is out of catchers.
And the impact of MLB’s COVID-19 failures go well beyond players.
At least clubhouse attendants are expendable. As long as Bryce Harper doesn't get infected, we can continue pretend that this is one person's illness is "encouraging." https://t.co/Io4J9P6aZE— (((EugeneFreedman))) (@EugeneFreedman) July 28, 2020
The Seattle Times’ Larry Stone wrote that players need to pay better attention to safe practices during COVID.
Speaking of protocol: Goodness gracious, players absolutely must adhere to the 113-page manual put out by MLB that mandated guidelines for safe practices. Flipping from game to game on TV since last Thursday’s launch of the season, I have been struck by how cavalierly teams are dealing with social distancing, celebrating, and other rules.
And yes, that the Marlins reportedly voted to take the field against the Phillies despite having multiple players with COVID-19 is truly despicable, an act for which Don Mattingly should be fired. But - and let’s be honest here - this was always going to happen. The only reason Mattingly’s negligence was possible is because of Rob Manfred’s negligence.
Because let’s be honest: there is no way to safely play professional baseball during an uncontrolled pandemic. None. Nada. Zero. Baseball is being played in Japan and South Korea because they, unlike in the United States, took the time and effort to control the pandemic before restarting sports. They didn’t politicize mask wearing. They didn’t prioritize money over human lives.
So let’s bottom line this. Sooner or later, an MLB player is going to die of COVID-19. I hope I’m wrong. I genuinely do, because good people deserve better than death by viral .ialBut Major League Baseball has shown essentially no willingness to protect players.
In legal terms, “negligence” includes all of these elements:
- The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
- The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
- That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
- That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.
Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. To put it another way, the famous Judge Learned Hand once said that legal negligence could be determined thusly: (1) the probability that injury would result from the actor’s conduct; (2) the gravity of the harm that could be expected to result should injury occur; and (3) the burden of taking adequate precautions to avoid or minimize injury.
This has also been borrowed into criminal law. For example, in lay terms, Negligent homicide occurs when a defendant kills another person while engaging in conduct that they should have known carried risks. Some states call it manslaughter.
Let’s think about that in the context of Major League Baseball in 2020. The probability that COVID-19 will spread from one baseball player to another when they aren’t wearing masks or socially distancing - both of which are extremely difficult to do whilst playing baseball - is extremely high. What’s the gravity of the resulting harm? Heart damage, in the case of Eduardo Rodriguez. Grave illness, in the case of Freddie Freeman. Death, in the case of tens of thousands of Americans.
So what are we watching with Major League Baseball? We are watching good men die in slow motion. By watching, we are paying MLB for the privilege, for the players don’t get all that much of the money that we spend on MLB.tv subscriptions or local broadcast deals. In other words, MLB wants us to be accomplices in its crime.
When MLB is back - really back, safely back - I will be there.
Until then, I refuse.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.