MLB whiffed like no other sport in its first true challenge of COVID-19 pandemic

We do not know the source of the coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins. Here’s what we do know: We know that they knew. There was a problem, and the Marlins chose to dismiss it. Manager Don Mattingly said publicly that “they never really considered not playing.” And that includes the players, according to shortstop Miguel Rojas, who told the media the team chose to compete.

It is a celebrated tradition in sports, the notion of playing hurt. The words “The Flu Game” still resonate among NBA fans nearly a quarter-century later. Baseball has the Bloody Sock. Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino played two periods of the 2017 Stanley Cup final round against Nashville with a broken leg, after an opponent’s shot struck him in the tibia.

This isn’t like that, though, and the Marlins ought to have been smart enough to realize it.

MORE: Breaking down MLB’s potential next step after Marlins’ COVID outbreak

And, more to the point, Major League Baseball should have made it completely clear. In fact, MLB ought not to have given the club a choice in the matter. That four players could test positive prior to Sunday’s game, according to ESPN.com, and the contest still continue is antithetical to the approach necessary to operate a professional sports competition amid an enduring pandemic.

The only way anyone is getting through this is with responsibility, vigilance and austerity. MLB failed in all areas in this circumstance, which is not how it has worked to date in other sports that have returned to competition.

We do not know how multiple members from both FC Dallas and Nashville SC contracted the virus prior to their arrival in Orlando for the start of the MLS is Back Tournament. We do know how they were handled, though. After nine players from Nashville tested positive, team officials asked whether the remaining players wished to compete. They said they did. MLS said, nah, we’ll get by fine without you. When FC Dallas showed up with 10 players and one staff member testing positive, they were “withdrawn” from the tournament by Major League Soccer.

We do not know how the Penguins nearly had an issue with the virus when they returned to training camp earlier this month. Well, we kind of do. As James Taylor sang it in “Her Town, Too,” it was “maybe the friend of a friend of a friend.” Seriously, the Pens held nine players out from the start of workouts, including two-time champion Patric Hornqvist, because they had “contact with an individual who had contact with a person that has tested positive for the COVID-19 practice.”  

All of them missed more than a week, though none, according to a league release Tuesday, ever tested positive. In fact, no player in the league has tested positive since camp began, more than 800 players taking 4,256 tests. All clean.

MORE: MLB’s coronavirus rules, explained

When Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes left the NBA’s bubble to retrieve a food order, he was ordered to quarantine for 10 days before he could rejoin the team. In Germany’s Bundesliga, manager Heiko Herrlich of Augsburg was forced to miss his team’s first game because he left the team hotel to buy toothpaste.

The U.S.-centric leagues that successfully have resumed play have had issues. MLS had to exclude two of its 26 teams. The NWSL, which completed its Challenge Cup tournament Sunday, had to remove one of its nine. They were prepared, though, to do what was necessary to protect the competition.

Major League Baseball failed its first such test, and it failed spectacularly.

For that, there is no excuse.

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