Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak won’t stop MLB season, but is needed wake-up call

If your Twitter timeline looks anything like mine, you’ve been flooded with variations of “Baseball’s 2020 season is on the verge of collapse!” headlines and hot takes after the Marlins, first, and then the Cardinals dealt with coronavirus outbreaks. 

Here’s the truth, though: It’s not on the verge of collapse. It’s really, really not. 

Want evidence to support that position? John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, was asked in a Zoom news conference Tuesday night by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Hochman whether he ever thought, during the darkest moments of a span in which 13 people in his team’s traveling party of 57 tested positive for COVID-19, that the Cardinals’ season would canceled. 

“No, I never thought that,” Mozeliak said, from the hotel room in Milwaukee where he’d been quarantined for a couple of days. “I don’t think Major League Baseball wanted that to happen, so I was never under that … I mean, obviously, we have that other camp going, so at some point we could have brought other people up to play.”

Yep. 

Baseball wants this season to happen, and for better or worse, this season is not being scrapped by a team-centered outbreak or two. And Mozeliak was preparing, should the need have arisen, to replace basically his entire active roster with players from the alternate site. 

And, yeah, there was a moment when he thought that might actually happen. 

“My darkest moment is when you go back to Saturday and Sunday, when the numbers just kept going the wrong direction,” Mozeliak said. “Our little world was 57 people, but it still was tracking in a very frustrating manner, to where I thought, ‘Oh gosh, this could actually get everyone here.’ That would have been awful.” 

The final number was 13: six players and seven staff members, only eight of whom were experiencing symptoms. 

Earlier this week — before that unlucky number of positives was announced — I wrote that MLB has a real opportunity to be a real leader for this country and that we — all of us — must learn how to live with the coronavirus. It’s not going away on its own, and even the eventual development of a vaccine doesn’t mean it’ll immediately disappear. 

So we have to learn how to live with COVID-19 in the real world. The Cardinals — and Marlins before them — are learning those lessons, learning that planning and preparation aren’t enough, and they’re learning them in a very public fashion. The hope is the rest of the sport — and the country — is listening. 

“We’ve got to be responsible as we go back to St. Louis,” Mozeliak said, “and that is something that we are going to preach and bang the tables hard on, because it can’t be taken lightly.”

The Cardinals either don’t know or just haven’t announced exactly how COVID-19 infiltrated their ranks, but it’s important that they do figure that out and pass along the information. They can’t do that, of course, without the blessing of the person/people who initially contracted the virus — HIPPA and all — but here’s hoping that person/those people understand the importance of transparency and step forward to say, “Here are the mistakes that were made, and here’s how to avoid them in the future.” 

Even though 13 people testing positive is a lot, Mozeliak knows it could have been worse. 

“When you go back to where we think this began, and on Thursday (an off day in the schedule) we never met as a group. People were scattered, they were wherever, but we were never together as 57,” he said. “I think that really changed our trajectory, which is scary because we still had 13 positives. I think, had we had a game that day, and treated it as a normal day — which we would have because we would not have known of those positives, I think we would have been looking at almost a catastrophe. That might not be the right word, because it’s not that large, but you know what I mean. A very dramatic effect on this team. The 13 could have easily doubled.”

It’s a scary thought, no doubt. And hopefully this is the wake-up call the rest of the folks in MLB, the ones who aren’t taking it as seriously as they should, the ones who aren’t strictly following protocols — not to say MLB’s protocols are foolproof, because they’re not — need to start taking the actions necessary to protect themselves, their teammates and their sport. 

“Look, this has been a very unique experience, to say the least,” Mozeliak said. “Eye-opening. Learning. Don’t want to have to do it again. But I know you can control what you can control, and you obviously could be susceptible to it. … The best thing for all of us who have been through this is to understand all of these recommendations, when they talk about wearing a facemask, when they talk about social distancing. These are things that you’re going to see this club practice even better. They realize the importance of what they just experienced, and they don’t want to do it again. That’s not to say it won’t happen again, but they don’t want a repeat.”

Here’s hoping everyone in MLB — and the country — is listening. 

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