With another delayed game, baseball is at another pivotal moment

Right out the gates, it was not smooth sailing for baseball’s mid-pandemic resume. By the start of the second week of play, July 26, multiple players from the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. Later that week, two players tested positive for the virus from the St. Louis Cardinals, and by Monday, August 3, 13 members of the Cardinals organization had tested positive.

And just when it seemed baseball was out of the woods with this bout of virus outbreaks, another member of the Cardinals tested positive, prompting a delay to tonight’s would be match-up against the Cubs.

It’s not enough to say baseball has stumbled out of the starting blocks; the sport has fallen flat on its face. 19 total players from the Marlins tested positive for COVID-19, as have 14 members of the Cardinals, eight of whom are players. After the Marlins’ outbreak, the Phillies had a coach and home clubhouse staffer test positive following their game against the Marlins, a game that was played despite the Marlins already having two positive cases. The Marlins had six games delayed following their early outbreak and the Cardinals still have not played since July 29. As pointed out by Mark Saxon of The Athletic, St. Louis entered this weekend’s series already with the task of playing 55 games in 52 days. It’s been announced that the entire series is delayed, further complicating the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ schedules and will even further complicate an MLB schedule that has already altered 12 teams’ schedules.

MLB knew there would be outbreaks and there would be delays as a result of the virus, but this early into the season, but it’s hard to imagine commissioner Rob Manfred seeing these issues coming this fast and this strong. Even one positive is enough. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who missed two games because a stomach illness but still got a Coronavirus test, highlighted what it looks like from a players’ side on Monday:

“If I did have it, that’s how it starts,” he said. “One person and it seems like half the team gets it. So I think it’s really important to keep up with those protocols and really take it as serious as we can.”

This is also not to mention how the strangeness of the season has impacted players. Changes to routines have possibly contributed to IL trips for big-time arms like Justin Verlander, Marcus Stroman and Mike Soroka, and Max Sherzer is day-to-day with a hamstring injury. Baseball players, notoriously creatures of habit, have to differentiate their pre-game routine, leaving the door open to deflated or inflated stats or the injuries that have been seen across the sport.

And please save the narrow, damaging perspective of “Well I’m sure none of these players will be hospitalized.” That very mindset is partly to blame for the pandemic dragging on this long in the United States. Players also have families. Dugouts have at-risk staffers and coaches. The tired game of comparing the Coronavirus to the flu is to ignore the virus potentially being a vascular disease and not a respiratory disease. Baseball approaching this crisis with a life-goes-on mentality puts its players, coaches, families, stadium-staffers and the families of every said group at risk.

It appears that baseball has to at least try something different if it is to continue, but it’s so hard to think what it could be. The NBA and NHL have experienced wild success in their bubble systems, but the idea of one for baseball was rejected while assembling the framework for this season. This season has brought so many intriguing storylines like the 6-1 Marlins, 10-3 Twins or Aaron Judge’s seven home runs in 12 games. Chief among them, at least in Chicago, are the starts by both the Cubs and White Sox. The Cubs, despite a rough outing in their 13-2 loss to the Royals last night, have pitched among the best rotations in baseball. Combined with encouraging offensive output, the Cubs are tied with the Twins for the best record in baseball at 10-3.

And as for the White Sox, despite running into a wall of injuries, have been exiting this year. Luis Robert looks as advertised, Tim Anderson is about to come back and Yoán Moncada’s slashed .320/.393/.500. And while they dropped the final two games of their four-game series against the Brewers, they are still very much alive in their division at 7-6, beginning a two-game series against Cleveland, the team they are behind for second place, tonight.

I don’t know what the solution to saving baseball would be other than for everyone to pull in the same direction in how they follow protocols. There are situations like the Marlins and there are teams like the Cubs, who still haven’t had a player test positive. But after a brutal year that included a sport-rocking cheating scandal with the Houston Astros and an ugly labor negotiation that delayed the start of the season, baseball has to be careful in whatever steps go into their response.