Just four days after beginning a truncated, coronavirus-delayed season, Major League Baseball (MLB) has run into a serious obstacle with the postponement of two scheduled games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Miami Marlins players.
- Major League Baseball has condensed its usual 162-game schedule into 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Three players tested positive prior to Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, but the game went ahead
- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said if a team lost enough players, the league could shut down part or all of the schedule
According to an ESPN report, at least 13 Marlins staff (11 players and two coaches) have tested positive in recent days, leading to games between the Marlins and Phillies being postponed.
The postponement of the games in Philadelphia and Miami was a potentially ominous development for MLB and other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada hoping to forge ahead during the pandemic.
While it was unclear whether the MLB season has been placed in jeopardy, some public health experts urged the suspension of play.
“They need to suspend games, do aggressive contact tracing, and see how bad this outbreak is,” Dr Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, wrote on Twitter.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told the MLB Network the health of the players and their families was the league’s “first concern.”
“We’re doing some additional testing, if the testing results are acceptable, the Marlins will resume play in Baltimore on Wednesday against the Orioles.”
Phillies players have also been tested, and the results were expected to be released on Tuesday (US time).
Manfred said he did not put the postponements and positive tests in the “nightmare” category.
“We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play,” he said.
The Commissioner was asked if there was a critical mass of positives within the league or a team where he would feel it was necessary to shut down part or all of the schedule.
“There is certainly both [breaking points within a team and the league],” he said.
“I think that a team losing a number of players that rendered them completely non-competitive would be an issue we would have to address, we would have to think about making a change.
“Whether that was shutting down part of the season, all of the season, that would depend on circumstances.”
The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, with worrisome infection rates in numerous states, including the Marlins’ home state of Florida.
US news outlets reported that the Marlins initially learned three of their players, including a starting pitcher, had tested positive for the virus before the last game against Philadelphia, but decided to go ahead with the game after a group text involving players.
“We made the decision that we’re going to continue to do this and we’re going to continue to be responsible and just play the game as hard as we can,” Marlins starting shortstop Miguel Rojas told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“[Not playing] was never the mentality. We knew that this would happen at some point.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly described Rojas as the “unofficial team captain”.
“He’s always texting the group and getting the feelings of the group. So when we’re dealing with situations or things, that’s usually who we’re working through,” Mattingly said.
The Marlins opened their season last week in Philadelphia and were scheduled to return to Florida for their scheduled home opener against the Baltimore Orioles but put off travelling after the positive tests.
The Phillies were scheduled to host the New York Yankees on Monday (US time) but that game also was postponed because Marlins players had used the stadium.
MLB said in a statement the games were postponed while it conducts “additional COVID-19 testing”, with the Marlins self-quarantining in Philadelphia awaiting the results.
“The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters,” Marlins chief executive Derek Jeter said in a statement, adding the postponement “was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation”.
In other US sports, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are set to resume play this week after a hiatus of more than four months, while National Football League training camps are opening.