Justin Turner COVID-19 flap casts pall over World Series finaleOctober 28, 2020
ARLINGTON, Texas — After all the hoops Major League Baseball jumped through to get to this marvelous point, it failed to stick the landing.
2020 continues to be a foe for the ages, and if you don’t acknowledge that — as the sport most certainly did not in the final moments of its hard-earned campaign — you pay a price.
Just moments after the Dodgers defeated the Rays on Tuesday night, 3-1 in World Series Game 6 at Globe Life Field, securing their first title in 32 years, the game’s broadcaster Fox reported that veteran Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, the former Met, left the contest after the seventh inning when he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Suddenly Kevin Cash’s decision to lift a dominant Blake Snell hardly seemed so controversial after all.
The news of Turner’s diagnosis sparked multiple questions: Why wasn’t the game immediately put on ice upon learning this news? Why were players and bubbled family members, many not wearing masks, allowed to celebrate on the field after the game? If they had paused, or if the Rays had come back to win this game, would there have been a multi-day break out of an abundance of caution (to revive a popular phrase from the regular season) before resuming action?
And as we seeked out answers to those questions, stunningly, Turner himself re-emerged on the field, posing for photos with his teammates, even removing his mask for at least a moment. Good god. At best, it served as a horrendous optic. At worst? Turner, who quickly tweeted that “I feel great, no symptoms at all,” spread this ultra-dangerous disease to others.
“I totally understand the question. If there were people around him without masks, that’s not good optics at all,” said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who — unlike commissioner Rob Manfred — partook in a news conference. “I think from our standpoint, the people who were around are people who would be in the contact tracing web anyway. The subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important so that if any of us are potentially positive, we do not spread it to other people.”
Of course, Turner might have spread COVID during the photo op. Even if he didn’t, he violated Rule 2.3.1 in MLB”s 2020 Operations Manual: “In the event that a Club is informed of a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 while the Covered Individual is at a Club facility, the individual who tested positive must immediately isolate himself or herself in the Dedicated Isolation Area or, if possible, outside the Club facility, pending further guidance from his or her Team Physician.”
“I can’t state enough how big of a role he has played with the success of this organization,” Friedman said of Turner. “I don’t think there was anyone who was going to stop him from getting out.”
How about an MLB security official?
As The Post’s Joel Sherman reported, MLB learned during the second inning Tuesday that Turner’s coronavirus test from Monday had come back inconclusive. MLB reacted to that by asking its Utah laboratory to run Turner’s tests for both Monday and Tuesday, and the latter came back positive. MLB swiftly notified Friedman to get Turner out of the game; Edwin Rios took over third base for the top of the eighth.
Why not call the game right then and there and pick up when the coast is clear, even if it meant hitting the pause button for days? MLB had a precedent at its disposal, a Reds game in which center fielder Nick Senzel set off similar alarms and left early (apparently Aug. 7 at Milwaukee, the only game Senzel left early this season) as the game continued. Why that’s a medically sound process, I’d love to know; the Reds didn’t play from Aug. 15 to 18 when a player tested positive.
And even if you concede to that precedent, and putting aside Turner’s obvious transgression, why risk further spread by letting the other Dodgers congregate, hug and pose for photos afterward with their bubbled family members? I get and respect how hard they worked to get here. I respect the virus more, however. 2020 is all about adjusting on the fly.
Friedman said the Dodgers planned to get rapid tests upon returning to their hotel Tuesday night, their travel plans to be determined. It’s all very fluid. It’s all highly unfortunate.
MLB, the team officials and the players did nothing less than amazing work to get here. But we’ve learned, so painfully, that you can’t let up against this disease that has killed more than 225,000 Americans.
They were so close to a blowout victory, to putting on a triumphant season that successfully engaged fans, sent positive messages about social justice and gave us legendary moments. Yet now we close up shop talking about the blown save. About lessons that clearly still must be learned and applied, because don’t forget: 2021 might not be much easier.
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