BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 07/28/2020

Thiel: Baseball fighting human nature, and losing

Baseball couldn’t get out of its opening weekend clean. But Rob Manfred says 13 positive tests among the Marlins isn’t a nightmare scenario. Then what is?

In the 2020 Rules of Baseball Etiquette, this behavior is considered unseemly, gauche, undignified and dangerous. / Alan Chitlik, Sporspess Northwest

If you’ve watched some telecasts of games in MLB’s stubby start-up season, you may have seen something you didn’t expect.  High-fives. Hugs. Spitting. Close contact.

You know, like it was in the before days, when baseball players celebrated all over each other as if style points were available whenever a teammate did something more than foul a ball off his instep.

As the only active major team sport not currently playing in a supposedly hygienic bubble, baseball players were told no, don’t do that happy stuff. Behave as if your mama and her preacher second husband were watching. Keep hands to yourself, wash them often, and you can sleep in your own bed and still play whatever ball is to be played.

At least that was the intent of the health-protocol portion of a 113-page document the union signed off on with MLB owners to work around the demon virus that has changed the world.

So what happens? On opening weekend, 13 of the 33 traveling members of the Miami Marlins tested positive.  (Tuesday morning update: Another four Marlins players tested positive, bringing the total to 17, per The Athletic.) Dunno yet how or where the infections happened, but the episode went like a hot iron through baseball Monday, forcing postponement of at least three games.

By Tuesday afternoon, MLB postponed Miami’s next six games, starting with Tuesday night’s home game against the Orioles, citing the belief that “it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their Baseball Operations for a resumption early next week.”

The Marlins played the weekend in Philadelphia, but the next team in, the dreadnought Yankees, shrieked like children watching “The Omen” when offered use of the visitors clubhouse in Philly.

That, sad to say, is typical of how ball is going to go if MLB continues this futile pursuit of pretend purity in a contaminated world.

Which is what Commissioner Rob Manfred said he wants to continue to do.

“I don’t put this in the nightmare category,” Manfred told MLB Network Monday afternoon. “It’s not a positive thing, but I don’t see it as a nightmare . . . That’s why we have the expanded rosters. That’s why we have the pool of additional players.

“We built protocols anticipating that we would have positive tests at some point during the season. The protocols were built to allow us to play through those positives. We believe the protocols are adequate to keep our players safe.”

But 13 on one team in the opening weekend, when health vigilance figures to be at its apex? Manfred sounded almost Trumpian in his determination to take the train over the washed-out trestle.

At least Scott Servais was willing to own up to his own club’s lax treatment of the rules designed to preserve large paychecks.

“It’s certainly something we’re well aware of,” the Mariners manager said on a Zoom conference from Houston Monday, ahead of the 8-5 loss to the Astros. “Quite frankly, it’s something we have to do a better job of here, too. Sunday’s game (a 7-6 Mariners win, ending the Mariners’ 15-game losing streak to the Astros) was really exciting. Guys are getting big hits and you just forget. And I’m as guilty as anybody.

“We’ll have a team meeting and we’ll come up with a 2020 version of high fives or different ways to celebrate in the clubhouse. We have to do a better job there.”

Unlike Manfred, at least Servais understands what he’s up against — human nature. There’s little hope of de-programming on the fly people who have ritualized and made mandatory jubilant expression as a method of personal validation.

Obviously, none of this is the fault of the players. Pandemics have decimated humanity for centuries, and the damage from this one was was compounded in the U.S. by a president and his enablers who couldn’t manage rainwater into a puddle.

But in order to make money, players agreed to changes in behavior that weren’t sustainable. They’ve agreed to do the near-impossible: Stop in mid-sneeze.

“I think we’re saying all the right stuff, but you watch the games, we have to do the right thing,” said Servais, who has had multiple team meetings on the subject. “Sometimes you let your emotions get in the way and you just react. We weren’t clearly thinking and slowing it down enough in those spots.

“I don’t want to curb the enthusiasm of young players. That’s the beauty of the game, what we’re going through to get a chance to experience that with our whole team. But we do have to be smart.”

The Mariners left Houston for another virus hot spot, Orange County, to play three games starting Tuesday against the Angels. Servais plans to tighten the screws.

You’ve got to lock down and stay in the hotel,” he said. “To my understanding, nobody has really left the hotel at all.”

Right. Tell rich, bored, good-looking, 20-something men to behave themselves in the capital of good-looking women. But if that isn’t sufficiently ludicrous, try this Manfred quote:

“I remain optimistic the protocols are strong enough that it will allow us to continue to play even through an outbreak like this and complete our season,” he said.

I hope it works. What I prefer is that the intellectual, psychological and financial rigor we are applying to sports safety be applied to the re-opening of schools. But that sort of priority has never happened, so why should a little pandemic be of sufficient gravitas to change now.


  • SeattleSince57

    “Stop, mid-sneeze”.. well put.

    I believe it was Herb Edwards that said,
    ‘When You score, act like you’ve been there before”.

    • art thiel

      Herm? And who’s scoring here?

      • SeattleSince57


  • Alan Harrison

    This is worse than not having played at all. I love baseball more than the next guy, but this is lunacy. “That’s why we have the expanded rosters. That’s why we have the pool of additional players”??? By that reasoning, at season’s end, you’ll be catching for the Dodgers, I’ll be pitching for the Cubs, and Kevin Lynch will be the new Yankee center fielder. Or, like they did in World War II, they’ll combine teams (like the Steegles) so that the last two conglomerations of 26 players from all levels will be on each team, regardless of position. Then they’ll play until there are only 10 left. That group will be crowned World Series Champions. Then they’ll get ventilators.

    • art thiel

      The countermeasures preventing the spread are typically anathema to 20-something elite athletes: Stay home and watch TV. That’s what I meant about fighting human nature.

      • Alan Harrison

        I’m still throwing long-toss in my bullpen/living room, just in case.

        • art thiel

          I’ll see you in the Home Depot light fixture aisle.

    • Lodowick

      I will not be the new Yankees center fielder, as Alan suggests. I will be happy to be the new Giants center fielder. I’ll wear any number..other than 24. No one should be allowed to wear that number until the solar system tumbles in on itself. In Giants territory, and indeed the entire known universe…24 is sacred.

  • coug73

    The spit ball is now the COVID-19 pitch. Interesting, I’ve been told youth baseball is being played. Is this true?

    • art thiel

      I’m not aware, although games w/o air travel and with social distancing and masks may make it possible.

  • Kirkland

    Behavior during the MLS and NWSL (women’s league) bubbles, after the exclusion of a few teams with many positive tests, seemed to work. The players exchanged goal celebrations and handshakes with fist/forearm bumps, coaches and staff wore masks even during sideline interviews. The NWSL tournament had no positive tests once play began, and I think MLS hasn’t had any so far.

    The only time players left the bubble were for extended injury treatments or personal reasons (one’s wife gave birth, another’s mother unexpectedly passed away). And there haven’t been off-field idiotic behavior despite two different bubble environments (suburban Salt Lake City for the women, Disney World for the men).

    Maybe baseball should’ve insisted on bubbles or hubs with a lot of fields in driving distance. But with sprint training hubs Florida and Arizona unworkable due to virus hotspots and unworkable weather, the only place I can think of is Southern California, which has a number of usable college baseball fields.

  • SeattleSince57

    A working covid-19 vaccine changes everything.
    Unless the Nov 2020 election says differently.

    • jafabian

      A vaccine won’t be anytime soon. They take years to perfect and currently there are eight known strains for the Coronavirus. If by some miracle a cure is found at the end of the year then pooling together every scientist and medical professional to work around the clock in developing a vaccine was a success and they damn well better start working around the clock on a cure for cancer. Or heart disease. Or the freaking common cold.

      • Husky73

        …or the Mariners bull pen.

        • jafabian

          Bring back Rodney!

    • Kirkland

      Two other possibilities. 1) We grant Jacinda Ardern dual citizenship and giver her the keys to the White House. She sure did an impressive job shutting down COVID, and New Zealand sports are back to full stadiums. 2) Once Angela Merkel’s term ends, appoint her to help lead the pandemic response. She’s a trained scientist (Ph. D in quantum chemistry) and will implement science-based instructions on restoring our health.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        Mr. Kirkland
        Many thanks for a perfect synopsis of other nations’ actual “leaders”. Ms. Ardern blew the doors off of the virus the way an intelligent leader would do.

      • art thiel

        So we’re drafting foreign leadership now? Wait. Didn’t we do that in 2016?

    • art thiel

      Incisive analysis.

  • jafabian

    Continuing to play makes no sense. It’s not just players and coaches who are involved. It’s also trainers, medical staff, team managers and secretaries, chefs, broadcasters, radio and TV personnel, stadium employees and more. So you have large groups of people based in large population centers traveling into other large population centers, some of which are the biggest Coronavirus hotspots in the world, on a daily basis. Moving from hotspot to hotspot. This isn’t a nightmare? MLB is on the cusp of creating one that could impact the entire nation and is in denial about it. They must have a supply of hydroxychloroquine on hand for everyone. (Sarcasm. Gotta put that out there. No false misleading info.) There being no fans minimizes risk to some degrees but the travel involved erases that minimizing. That part MLB is turning a blind eye as they sit in their ivory tower. The Marlins situation clearly illustrates the potential dangers involved.

    It would be sad to see the remaining season cancelled but I’m expecting to see it happen. Before it happens more players will most likely opt out of the season following the lead of several NFL players recently, including several NE Patriots. If the plan was to erase the black eye that the Astros put on baseball its working though the Dodgers clearly haven’t forgotten based on their game today.

    • art thiel

      The intriguing new development is baseball players voting whether to play in road cities with higher infection rates. They don’t exactly have the right via the CBA, but no owner is going to mandate that players must play where they feel unsafe. I don’t know if managements planned for that.

      • jafabian

        That seems fair but I don’t know how informed players are about that. Florida seems like the last place they should go to. Hopefully the MLBPA stays on top of things and has the latest information available for them so they can make informed decisions.

  • Quackhead

    In consideration that the Mariners are spending time consecutively in two Corona hotspots, would it be o-k to ask them not to return to Seattle?
    Kinda like ‘The Firm’, they are ” . . .exactly like a ship carrying a cargo that will never reach any port. As long as I am (we are) alive, that ship will always be at sea, so to speak.”
    In truth, the Mariners have been out to sea already for a long time. What’s a few more months or even years?

    • art thiel

      The Marlins have been “at sea” in Philly, and that is likely to repeat elsewhere for road teams.

      That would be quite the story if the Mariners find themselves on an endless bus ride to Seattle.

      • Quackhead

        I was fetching far with the scenario (Facetious is my middle name), but –as you pointed out with the Marlins– what were once considered remote possibilities are now becoming starkly real; the invisible army marches on.
        Here’s to everyone’s best health!