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MLB seems mad at the Marlins

While rumors swirl around the Miami Marlins outbreak, MLB appears put out with the club

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MLB: JUL 24 Marlins at Phillies Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rumors about the Miami Marlins and the source of their COVID-19 outbreak — an outbreak which has resulted in Miami’s games this week against the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals being postponed, the games for the Philadelphia Phillies (who played a series against the Marlins this past weekend) against the New York Yankees originally scheduled for Monday through Thursday being postponed, and questions being raised about the feasibility of MLB playing even this truncated schedule — continue to swirl, and while there have been no specifics released by MLB or the team indicating how the outbreak happened, MLB’s actions suggest that they are not happy with the Marlins right now.

Fifteen players on the Marlins have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, along with two coaches, and the Marlins are frantically claiming players on waivers — pitchers Justin Shafer and Josh Smith on Sunday, and pitcher Mike Morin on Monday — in an effort to have enough arguably major league caliber players to field a team in the coming days while half their Opening Day roster is sidelined. The Philadelphia Phillies have been in limbo while their players undergo daily tests to see if any of them contracted the virus while playing the Marlins. MLB has been hammered for allowing the Marlins and Phillies to play on Sunday, when they knew multiple Marlins had tested positive, and the viability of the season has been brought into question.

The Ken Rosenthal/Jayson Stark article linked above uses some interesting language in addressing the question of how the virus spread.

A number of unsubstantiated rumors are circulating about how the team’s initial infections occurred. Some players, perhaps attempting to deflect blame, have told friends they believe the primary source was an infected flight attendant on their trip from Atlanta to Philadelphia. But a Marlins source said the team’s carrier swapped out crews after learning that one of the originally scheduled flight attendants had been potentially exposed to the virus, and every member of both crews subsequently tested negative.

That bolded part seems to suggest that Rosenthal and Stark believe that there is a lack of ownership or responsibility for what happened going on with the Marlins players. They go on to say:

A rival executive said questions about the origins of the outbreak miss the point. With so much at stake financially for players, teams and the sport, a number of people in the game want to know why the virus spread so quickly and extensively through the Marlins’ roster.

The Marlins are largely devoid of veteran leadership; their current 30-man roster includes nine players who are older than 30, but six of those are in their first year in the organization. Were the Marlins masking properly? Practicing social distancing? Staying out of bars and restaurants? Effectively policing themselves?

The high number of positives indicate the answer might be no.

Which leads to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale’s comments yesterday. Nightengale said in a radio interview that he’s heard that the Marlins outbreak started because “a couple of guys went out in Atlanta.” He went on to say, “It wasn’t any kind of fluke...I believe some guys got careless — at least one guy did for sure — and went out, and they came back positive and spread it around.”

(You can hear the relevant portion of the interview at the link above starting at 4:11:40)

Nightengale is the first baseball writer I’ve seen who has come out and given credence — treated as likely — the rumor that has been making the rounds, which is that some Marlins players went out while they were in Atlanta for an exhibition game. Some versions of the story say it was a strip club (specifically, the Magic City club in Atlanta that is where Lou Williams reportedly went when he left the NBA bubble last week), but whether it was a strip club, a regular club, or something else, the story that some Marlins broke protocol and went out on the town in Atlanta is widely circulating.

While that story hasn’t been verified, the releases from MLB and from Marlins owner Derek Jeter are consistent with that scenario. Here’s the final paragraph from MLB’s statement yesterday:

The difficult circumstances of one Club reinforce the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field. We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments. The realities of the virus still loom large, and we must operate with that in mind every day. We are confident that Clubs and players will act appropriately, for themselves and for others, and the data provides reason to believe that the protocols can work effectively.

Here’s a portion of Derek Jeter’s statement on Sunday:

After a successful Spring 2.0, we have now experienced challenges once we went on the road and left Miami.

Jeter’s statement seems to suggest that they know where and how the virus was contracted. And MLB’s statement seems to suggest that MLB thinks — or at least wants everyone to think — that this was not a failure on the part of MLB’s protocols, which, they suggest, will work if every will follow the rules.

Meanwhile, Ken Davidoff, the respected baseball writer for the New York Post, said that “MLB blamed the Marlins for this headache” in a column last night. Davidoff noted MLB’s language in its release seeming to single out the Marlins while talking about “the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Ken Rosenthal says that, while Phillies, Yankees and Nationals players will be paid for any games that are canceled “due to the Marlins’ outbreak,” Rosenthal says “the league was not prepared to make that commitment” to the Marlins players. Holding off on agreeing that the Marlins players would be paid seems like a pretty big tell.

I am guessing that, at some point, the real story comes out. But if it is true that this outbreak was started by players breaking protocol and going out in Atlanta, then that’s a pretty big failure of leadership by manager Don Mattingly and the rest of the organization. Joe Maddon caught flak when he said that “the person that should opt out is the person who does not want to follow the protocols to a T at any age, at any risk” earlier this month.

But Joe Maddon is right. The entire season — and the players ability to get games in and get paid — relies in large part on every member of every team following the protocols. The Miami Marlins situation underscores that reality...and hopefully, is a reminder to the rest of the league that they have to treat this seriously and, as Maddon says, “follow the protocols to a T,” or they run the risk of bringing the 2020 campaign down, and costing their peers millions of dollars.