Major League Baseball’s worrying coronavirus outbreak spread into another clubhouse on Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals’ game in Milwaukee was postponed after two Cardinals players tested positive for the virus.
The Cardinals did not name the players but said that the positive results came from testing performed before Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis. The Cardinals said the team was self-isolating at its hotel in Milwaukee, where it is conducting rapid testing and implementing contact tracing.
Friday’s postponement is the 15th such virus-related action in a major league schedule that only began July 23. The matchup was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Sunday, and despite the Cardinals’ exposure to the virus the teams still plan to play as scheduled on Saturday night.
Major League Baseball created a 113-page set of protocols for teams before it resumed play, and its officials had been encouraged by the fact that, until Friday, only one team — the Miami Marlins — had any players test positive. But the Marlins’ outbreak, which has widened to include 18 players, has devastated its roster, and the Cardinals’ news sent a sobering signal of the complications in staging a 60-game season, with extensive travel, during a pandemic.
“We have a lot of really smart people working on this, a number of committed players who want to play through this, but everybody wants to play safely,” Mark Attanasio, the Brewers’ principal owner, said during a news conference at Miller Park. “If we’re not smart and safe, we’ll fail. But we’re going to do everything we can not to fail.”
The league’s investigators have been probing the cause of the Marlins’ outbreak, and a person briefed on the findings said that players were found to have gone out in Atlanta, where the Marlins played exhibition games last Tuesday and Wednesday. The person was granted anonymity because the league has not yet released its findings, the details of which were first reported by Bleacher Report.
While the Marlins’ behavior was not entirely surprising, their outbreak was a clear warning to players, a point Commissioner Rob Manfred reiterated Friday in a conversation with Tony Clark, the executive director of the players’ union, as reported by ESPN. Manfred emphasized that players must stay vigilant about following safety protocols or risk ending the season.
“It’s definitely in a lot of guys’ minds, that’s for sure,” said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, adding that the Cardinals’ news had been discouraging. “We all want to play,” he said, “and the guys here in our clubhouse, as we get going, know the importance of sticking together and being as prudent as possible away from the field and at the field.”
Rizzo added: “It’s a little nerve-racking. We say the most normal thing about the day is when we actually play baseball.”
Rizzo’s teammate, Steven Souza Jr., echoed those remarks on Twitter: “Every player in this league better take a hard look at what you’re doing off the field, because what you do affects, more than just you and your team. Your decisions off the field will put all of our seasons in jeopardy this year.”
The league said that postponing Friday’s Cardinals game and deciding to go ahead with Saturday night’s game were “consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be conducted.” Yet just last Sunday, the Marlins were allowed to play in Philadelphia despite both teams learning before the game that four Marlins players had tested positive.
Because the official safety protocols did not mandate that a game be postponed when players tested positive, the Marlins’ game in Philadelphia was allowed to go forward. The quick postponement of the Cardinals-Brewers game underscores just how much MLB is adjusting its plan as it goes.
“With new information, we’d be silly to continue the same protocols we did a week ago when there’s obviously a different situation,” Gary Green, the MLB’s medical director, said in an interview this week. “So we have to react to that and try and change within the course of it, when we don’t know all the facts because it’s a new disease.”
The Cardinals-Brewers game is the third postponement on baseball’s Friday night schedule, following earlier ones involving the Marlins, who were to play the Washington Nationals, and the Phillies, who were to host Toronto. The Marlins have had 18 players and two staff members test positive this week (the most recent case was revealed on Friday); those cases have already upended baseball’s schedule.
The three games postponed on Friday mean that eight of MLB’s 30 teams have been affected by cascading schedule changes caused by the virus. Those teams include the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, who have had games postponed or rescheduled as the sport strains to isolate the affected teams.
In an interview with MLB Network on Monday, Manfred expressed confidence that baseball would be able to manage the outbreaks and continue its season.
“We knew that we were going to have positives at some point in time,” he said. “I remain optimistic that the protocols are strong enough that it will allow us to continue to play, even through an outbreak like this, and complete our season.”
The Phillies on Thursday became the second team, after the Marlins, to miss a full week of play when the league postponed games scheduled for this weekend after a Phillies coach and a clubhouse attendant received positive test results for the coronavirus.
The Phillies had hoped to play a doubleheader with the Blue Jays on Saturday in Philadelphia and another game on Sunday, but the positive tests caused the team to shut down Citizens Bank Park for baseball activity. It remained closed on Friday, even after the Phillies announced that there had been no positives in their most recent round of test results.
Those measures would seem to suggest that the Minnesota Twins will take similar precautions at Target Field, where the Cardinals played two games this week before traveling to Milwaukee. The Twins hosted Cleveland on Thursday, meaning that the team used the same clubhouse and dugout as the Cardinals.
But Cleveland and Minnesota went forward as planned on Friday night. Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, said the visiting clubhouse had been fully sanitized, and the clubhouse staffers were not allowed at Target Field as the team conducted contact tracing. Falvey said the Twins’ players had undergone point-of-care testing on Friday.
“When you’re trying to deal with whether or not you may have had some transfer, at least day one, so far, we have good information,” Falvey said. “That doesn’t mean we’re entirely in the clear. We have to make sure that we test and monitor over the next few days as well.”
Baseball has made several revisions to its extensive virus protocols since the Marlins’ outbreak. The league has tightened rules on masks and ordered every team to appoint an employee to monitor the traveling party’s compliance with health rules. The league also has implemented seven-inning games for doubleheaders this season to minimize both time spent at the ballpark and injury risks to players.
Several pitchers have dealt with injuries early this season, including Houston’s Justin Verlander, Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, Texas’ Corey Kluber, St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas and the Yankees’ Tommy Kahnle, who was placed on the injured list on Friday with an injury to his right ulnar collateral ligament, in his pitching arm.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced after the team’s 5-1 win against the Red Sox that Kahnle would need to have Tommy John surgery.