We don’t know much about the coronavirus, but we do know that it refuses to negotiate.
“Can you just avoid baseball players? We really need a season?” No. “OK, just let us have time with our families. Everyone can agree on how important family is.” Sorry, no. “What about just the ones having a baby? Guys whose names start with Q? If we promise to refer two victims in our place?”
It doesn’t work that way. Just ask the “bubble” of San Quentin where inmates are quite naturally sequestered together and as a result had no cases throughout March, April, and May, until ... they had exposure to a new group of inmates and it started what is now a rapid outbreak amongst inmates who were “safe together” and are now “unsafe together.”
Honestly, the virus doesn’t care if you’re red, blue, incarcerated, free, old, young, pregnant, or abstinent — it’s just looking for a host. And to that end “hope” is not a strategy, which is a shame considering that the current strategy of MLB and MLBPA seems to be to “encourage” each of its 1,000+ participants to “make good choices” and hope for the best. Good luck with that plan.
The reality is this: the easiest number to avoid is 1. If you take a group of people who have 0 infections among them, and keep them in contact only with each other, the chances of keeping the number at 0 is actually very high. However, as any San Quentin inmate can tell you, as Charlie Blackmon can tell you, as anyone who plays for the Phillies can tell you, once you hit 1 you will soon hit 2, 4, 8, and “shutdown,” because your bubble just became a petri dish.
So the bad news is also partly the good news: while COVID-19 won’t negotiate, it will also give it to you straight: sequester in full or be known as a gracious host to the virus. So when Chad Pinder, whose wife is expecting their first child in September, tells The Chronicle, “Everybody is going to have to do their part for this whole thing to work,” he is asking over 1,000 people each to make wise choices about seeing, or not seeing, family and friends in July, August, and September.
Have you ever hung around 1,000 people and had your livelihood and/or life in the hands of the good judgment and responsible behavior of each and every one of them? (Probably not or you’d be dead.)
In the same interview, Pinder goes on to convey the experience his former teammate, and current Korean league pitcher, Aaron Brooks describes: “players going to and from the field and hotel, and that’s it.” And that’s how you succeed in getting a baseball season going during a pandemic.
If the population of San Quentin had remained an intact bubble, do you think the prison would be suffering an outbreak right now? (We have 3 prior of months of data to answer that.) If players and coaches had worked out at complexes without going home to family and back, do you think we would have seen outbreaks at complex after complex in a matter of weeks?
Meanwhile, the prevalence of the virus in so many different venues, from the Phillies to the Rockies to the Astros to the Giants to the Blue Jays to the Yankees to the Angels — and other unnamed clubs who have confirmed cases in their venues — demonstrates the absolute inevitability of outbreaks once the bubble is made to be elastic.
There are really only two realistically possible outcomes, and MLB/MLBPA have about a week to figure it out. One is that they put actual protocols in place that mirror those of South Korea and allow for no contact between baseball personnel and non-baseball personnel — and that includes family. The other is that 0 becomes 1, 1 becomes many, and it all falls apart with only the virus crowned, pun intended, champion of 2020.
It’s not pleasant but it’s also not complicated. Players and owners, you can’t agree on much but you ought to be able to agree on this: you cannot trust each player, each coach, individually, to regulate his behavior in a way that reaches compromise, negotiation, or exemption from a virus whose only goal is to find him. You need to accept the reality that it’s a “fully sequestered bubble” or “no season,” period.
It’s. Not. That. Complicated. This virus is ruthless but at least it’s consistent. Figure it out, folks, in the next week, if you want to have any prayer of a 2020 baseball season.