By Lenn Robbins
Jerry Seinfeld once did a hilarious skit on what it’s like to be the passenger in the backseat of a New York taxi. The driver is careening down an avenue at high speed, narrowly missing pedestrians and automobiles by blindly cutting in out of traffic in a death defying race to your destination.
Because there is a thick plastic partition between the front and back seats, you stop interpreting the trip as a life-threatening death ride and begin to enjoy it; like a TV show. The passenger, says Seinfeld, muses, “Boy, that looked dangerous.”
Which brings us to the start of the baseball season. As of three days ago, 31 MLB players, including the Yankees DJ LeMahieu, and seven staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Freddie Freeman, the 6-foot-5, 226-pound slugger who is in the prime of his career at 30, was crushed by the virus, his wife said.
“He is someone who literally never gets sick, and this virus hit him like a ton of bricks,” Freeman’s wife, Chelsea, posted on her Instagram page.
Yet baseball continues to hurtle towards its July 23rd Opening Day like a speeding taxi taking dead aim at a brick wall. The players, coaches, managers, et al are the ones sitting in the backseat watching it unfold like it’s a TV show.
What if “The Show” becomes the fodder for a streaming show chronicling the story of baseball’s failed handling of the worst pandemic in more than a decade? Maybe someone should be pumping the brakes on the return of baseball and really consider that we just might have to lose a season of MLB, NBA, NHL and maybe even NFL.
“[It’s] never full steam ahead no matter what,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Time100 about his league’s restart. “I think one thing we’re learning about this virus is much is unpredictable, and I think we and our players together with their union – the Players Association – look at the data on a daily basis. And if there was something to change that was outside of the scope of what we’re planning for, certainly we would revisit our plans.”
That one statement illuminates the differences between MLB and the NBA. Silver uses words such as “we” and “together” when discussing the NBA’s decision-making process. There is a trust between league and union. Of course, the owners and players want to earn as much money as possible. But there’s an atmosphere of “I’ve got your back,” on the way to the bank.
The league and union even have agreed to not to penalize players who choose to sit out this season in a bubble. Thabo Sefolosha became the latest NBA player to opt out of the season, joining Nets Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan among others.
“If a player chooses not to come, it’s not a breach of his contract,” Silver told ESPN last month. “We accept that.”
There is no acceptance in baseball. Ask MLB owners if the class is half full or half empty and they’ll say it’s whatever the opposite of what the MLBPA says. That’s how we got to this commissioner Bob Manfred-ordered 60-game season. The two sides are well past working together.
The NHL announced a tentative agreement to open training camp on July 13 and restart its season with a tournament on Aug. 1. The league reported Monday that 35 players have tested positive. The tentative deal gives players a three-day window to back out with no penalty, according to ESPN.
Baseball is bullyball for players. A major league player told our Rich Mancuso last week that he didn’t have the option to sit out this season.
“I really can’t sit this out with service time, though I don’t know how this is going to work.”
That’s the opinion of just about every epidemiologist and health expert. No one knows what’s going to work against this morphing, Godzilla-size health threat.
A recent report stated that there is a variation of the COVID-19 strain which is spread more easily, but is less lethal than the original. A recent letter to the World Health Organization signed by 239 scientists states that smaller particles of COVID-19 can spread the virus, than originally thought.
Four MLB teams – the Astros, Athletics, Cardinals and Nationals – canceled workouts on Monday because the testing program to design to keep the virus in check suffered a glitch. Those teams did not receive results of previous tests. MLB is using one lab just outside of Salt Lake City to test all players, staffers and coaches, of all 30 clubs, according to the Washington Post.
Yet here comes baseball, like an Aroldis Chapman fastball, hurtling toward July 23rd with no backstop.
This isn’t to suggest this sports fan wants to go more weekends with only Sunday morning Premier League soccer, sound courtesy of EA. I’d rather have silence and hear the players, uh, chatter. Hopefully MLB won’t make that mistake.
But there’s a worse mistake that MLB can make. That would be putting the pedal to the metal to start the season. There’s simply too much unknown about this virus and too much at stake for MLB to learn there’s real danger on the other side of the partition.