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Sean Doolittle stresses importance of health safety in plans for 2020 MLB season

The lefty speaks out on Twitter

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World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game One
If he folds his beard up over his face, does it count as a mask?
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has already robbed us of over a month of the 2020 MLB season. Well, it’s robbed the world of much more than that, but in the context of this baseball website, one key thing we’ve lost is our favorite sport.

Someday the game will return. Maybe it’ll be later this summer, or maybe it’ll be next year, but one way or other it will come back. The question, beyond when, is how exactly the players can get back on the field.

There are many angles to that “how.” There are the logistics of where to play the actual games, whether it be in home stadiums or spring training parks, and all around the country or just in a few states. Then there are the economics, which might be even more difficult to hammer out, since players refuse to discuss pay cuts and owners refuse to take heavy losses without the ability to sell tickets to fans.

Those topics can fill many articles in their own right, and they’ve already done so. Here at AN, Nico did a wonderful job looking at those and other considerations.

However, beyond the money and the logistics, there is still one other crucial issue: the safety of the players and personnel involved with getting the baseball season started. In the opinion of former Oakland A’s star, current Washington Nationals closer, and all-time Twitter champion Sean Doolittle, that aspect is not getting enough weight in the conversation.

Doolittle took to Twitter on Monday and authored a 16-tweet thread on the matter (starting here). Here’s what he had to say (links within this blockquote are stories that Doo linked to in his tweets):

Bear with me, but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I’ll be looking for in the proposal...

Because this is a novel virus, there is still so much we don’t know - including the long-term effects. On top of respiratory issues, there’s been evidence of kidney, intestinal, and liver damage, as well as neurological malfunctions, blood clots & strokes.

Covid-19 patients often develop lung scarring, or ‘ground-glass opacities’. These were found even in asymptomatic patients, and because the virus often affects both lungs, can cause permanent damage in some cases. Definitely a concern for an athlete.

Research has shown Covid-19 may cause issues with male hormone ratios - even in younger men, which could lead to fertility complications. Not ideal. Extremely suboptimal. Zero stars.

We know that sharing indoor spaces greatly increases the infection risk, and it’s rare that only 1 person gets sick. Will there be modifications made to clubhouses or other facilities to prevent a spread?

And we’ve learned that you release the most virus into your environment prior to symptoms even showing. So how frequently will we be testing to stay ahead of a potential spread and to mitigate as much risk as possible?

Fauci spoke about conducting an NFL season & indicated a need for daily testing. Baseball players might not be in close contact during a game the way football players are, but there is a lot of shared space in a clubhouse among players, coaches and staff.

So how many tests do we need to safely play during a pandemic? And not just tests for players. Baseball requires a massive workforce besides the players; coaches, clubhouse staff, security, grounds crews, umpires, gameday stadium staff, TV & media...we need to protect everyone.

And that’s before we get to hotel workers and transportation workers (pilots, flight attendants, bus drivers). They are essential workers. We wouldn’t be able to play a season without them, and they deserve the same protections.

We need to consider what level of risk we’re willing to assume. 80% of cases are considered mild, but what if a player, a staff member, an auxiliary worker, or a family member gets a case that’s in the 20% and they develop severe symptoms or chronic issues? 1 feels like too many?

There are a number of players & staff who have pre-existing conditions that they are aware of (and likely more who aren’t yet). We need a plan that seriously considers the increased health concerns of any players, staff or workers who are at higher risk.

And if even mild cases can cause long-term health effects, will there be added healthcare benefits for players, staff and workers that will extend beyond their employment and into retirement to mitigate the unknown risks of putting on a baseball season during a pandemic?

We don’t have a vaccine yet, and we don’t really have any effective anti-viral treatments. What happens if there is a second wave? Hopefully we can come up with BOTH a proactive health plan focused on prevention AND a reactive plan aimed at containment.

Hopefully these concerns will be addressed in MLB’s proposal, first and foremost: 1) what’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests? 2) what’s the protocol if a player, staff member, or worker contracts the virus? We want to play. And we want everyone to stay safe.

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. I’m going to turn my phone off now. Best of luck to my mentions. Stay safe. Keep washing your hands and wearing your masks. I hope we get to play baseball for you again soon.

He wrapped up the thread with this:

As you might expect, that writeup drew a wide array of passionate responses, from praise to outrage. Doo followed up with another 6-tweet thread Tuesday morning (starting here):

Some people telling me to stay home if I don’t want to play. We’re asking these questions BECAUSE we want to play. We want to restart the season again. We also want everyone it would require to resume a baseball season to be as safe as possible.

I know that some people have gone back to work. I think you could argue that many of those people are providing more essential and immediate services to their communities (they should also get hazard pay and better benefits). But these concerns apply to workers in every industry.

It’s why we have a responsibility to do this ethically. Can we ensure that we will not be diverting resources (tests, PPE, etc.) from people and communities and more essential workers? What if a player sustains an injury and needs surgery? How will that work?

And it’s true that the vast majority of players are not at risk of developing severe symptoms. But when so many of our coaches, clubhouse staff, and workforce are in the higher age groups that might make them more vulnerable, we have to make sure they are protected too.

It feels like the conversation about an MLB restart has shifted to the economic issues and that’s really frustrating. Until there’s a vaccine, let’s focus on keeping everyone as safe as possible & minimizing the risks so we can play baseball again.

And the finale:

Whatever your opinions on the pandemic, or the disease itself, or the lockdown, or what MLB should do, or anything else, Doolittle brings up many valid points here that should be clearly addressed. Let’s share our civil, respectful, and informed thoughts in the comments.