ST. PETERSBURG — The Marlins are on pause. The Phillies are in isolation. And the baseball season is in jeopardy.
All of that, by the way, is good news. It’s better than the day before when Major League Baseball officials seemed to be in a “take two aspirins and see ya tomorrow” approach to the coronavirus outbreak in the Miami clubhouse.
By shutting the Marlins down until next week and postponing Phillies games until Friday, the league has belatedly realized the only way to save the 2020 season is to make absolutely certain the outbreak is contained to one or two teams. And the only way to do that is to keep testing players on the Phillies and Marlins until it’s clear who is infected and who is not.
The implications are enormous. This isn’t just a question of some young, healthy athletes getting flu-like symptoms. This is about potentially spreading the virus beyond the ballpark. This is about hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in television rights fees. And this is about putting the families and loved ones of other players at risk.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Rays player representative Tyler Glasnow said Tuesday. “It was the players’ responsibility, and Marlins leadership, to keep everybody contained and, there were rumors obviously, it wasn’t as tight-knit as I guess it was supposed to be.
“I’m not here to be mad at the Marlins, (but) it’s frustrating because it does affect everybody. It’s not just them. Whatever the case was, whatever happened, who spread it. I hope now it’s like a scare, or enough of a concern for people to start taking it seriously. Maybe for other organizations who weren’t taking it seriously, it’s probably a nice wakeup call.”
Glasnow’s frustrations were not uncommon. Before the league put the Marlins season on hold, the Nationals supposedly took a vote among players and they overwhelmingly expressed a preference not to travel to Miami for games this weekend.
Washington manager Davey Martinez, a former Rays player and bench coach, missed part of last season with a heart condition and said Monday that his level of concern had grown tremendously in the wake of Miami’s problems.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared,” said Martinez, 55. “I really am.”
MLB did its best to downplay fears Tuesday, and it did have numbers on its side. The league pointed out that only 0.3 percent of tests have returned positive since the start of summer camp nearly a month ago, and no team other than the Marlins has had a positive test since Friday.
But the way the virus spread through the Marlins clubhouse — 17 players and two staff members tested positive in a five-day span — has unnerved some players. And the news that Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has been sidelined with heart inflammation that appears tied to a coronavirus diagnosis earlier this year hasn’t helped the mood.
“I care about my teammates, I care about the future of my teammates, I care about their future wellness,” Rays pitcher Charlie Morton said. “I care if they have heart, lung, brain damage. I care if they’re damaging vital organs and don’t even know it.
“I personally feel like I’m going to get sick at some point. Whether it’s in the next 60 days or whether it’s in the next six years, I feel like at some point I’m going to come in contact with the virus, I’m probably going to get sick. So I don’t feel like I’m at any more risk being here then I would be anywhere else over the next several years.”
Even if baseball has contained this outbreak, it will have implications for the rest of the season. The Marlins have already postponed seven games in a season with only six off days, and the Phillies aren’t far behind. An expanded postseason also means there probably won’t be time to make up games after the final day of the regular season.
That raises the possibility that both teams — as well as their opponents — could play fewer than 60 games and MLB will have to use winning percentage to determine postseason spots.
“We knew coming in, everybody knew, when we came back here to play there were going to be adjustments needed throughout, there were going to be some sacrifices needed,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Maybe that’s just another one to add to the list.”
Baseball had to use a similar adjustment in 1972 when the season was shortened by a strike. How did it work? The Red Sox (85-70) finished a half-game behind the Tigers (86-70) for the AL East division title because they played one fewer game.