The SF Giants biggest rival won their first World Series since 1988 on Tuesday night. Yet, the Dodgers championship is already overshadowed by a positive COVID-19 test and the league’s mishandling of the situation.
The last time the Dodgers won the World Series, Vin Scully yelled, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” Tuesday night, thousands of people screamed the same thing as they watched Major League Baseball mishandle a deadly virus worse than it already has.
On March 13th of this year, MLB suspended Spring Training in response to the growing spread of novel coronavirus-19 (a.k.a COVID-19). At that point, at least 2,226* people in the United States had an active case of the virus. Forty-eight people had already died due to complications caused by COVID-19.
There would be an extended layoff before any official MLB action returned. A prolonged negotiation between the league and MLB Player’s Association (MLBPA) would eventually lead the originally scheduled 162-game season to be condensed to 60 games. Teams would not be isolated or “bubbled” in an enclosed environment until late in the postseason. Instead, the league constructed detailed rules on player behavior without clarifying how they would enforce them.
On Tuesday night, the Dodgers and Rays faced off in Game 6 of the World Series. It would be the final MLB game of 2020. At least 2,927,982 people in the United States had an active case of COVID-19, 75,027 people had tested positive that day. Over 1,000 people in the U.S. were reported to have died from COVID-19 related complications that day. At least 232,084 people have been killed in the U.S. alone by COVID-19.
The Rays jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a first-inning Randy Arozarena home run. Down 3-2 in the series, Tampa Bay needed a victory to stay alive. With their ace Blake Snell on the hill, they were positioned to do just that. From his first pitch of the game, Snell had his best stuff on display.
At some point in the second inning, presumably behind closed doors, MLB received the COVID-19 test results for Justin Turner from a sample taken on Monday. Reports conflict at this point, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that Turner’s result was inconclusive, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the result was positive. Regardless, while players, coaches, and fans watched the game, higher-ups in the league learned that a player on the field could be spreading the virus that had forced them to suspend Spring Training in March.
Snell was dominant. The 2018 AL Cy Young award winner looked every bit as great as he ever has, striking out six of the first ten batters he faced. Except for one Chris Taylor single, Snell’s line was flawless through most of his start.
The league did not suspend the game or even force Turner to be immediately isolated. Instead, Turner’s Tuesday sample was expedited through testing. The game continued. Players and coaches continued their incorrect or nonexistent mask-wearing and chatted in the dugout as if nothing had changed. Granted, they probably had no reason to believe anyone was COVID-19 positive at that point.
In the sixth inning, Snell induced a first-pitch popout from AJ Pollock before Austin Barnes singled up the middle on a 1-1 slider up in the zone. With the heart of the Dodgers lineup due up, Rays manager Kevin Cash removed Snell from the game for reliever Nick Anderson. Snell had thrown just 79 pitches, struck out nine batters, and surrendered just two baserunners.
There were once again thousands of paid fans in attendance at Globe Life Field to witness the game. Even as Texas faces one of the largest outbreaks in the world, the league welcomed paid attendees with limited screening or enforcement of masks and social distancing. It was an opportunity for the league to make revenue and they were willing to experiment.
Mookie Betts doubled off Anderson, putting the leading run in scoring position. Following a wild pitch, a Corey Seager fielder’s choice was enough to get the lead run across. With the Dodgers ahead 2-1, Turner came to the plate, flew out, returned to the dugout, and soon retook the field.
By the seventh inning, the results of Turner’s second test results were in. He was COVID-19 positive. Rosenthal explicitly stated in a postgame interview, “This is not a case of a false positive.” Only at that point did MLB call for Turner’s removal from the game.
Betts added an insurance run with a solo home run in the bottom of the 8th inning and Dodgers relievers prevented Tampa Bay from building any rally. The game ended with a final score of 3-1.
As the Dodgers celebrated their first World Series victory since 1988, news leaked of Turner’s positive test. League executives likely hoped that the victory celebration would dim the concerning news.
Turner claimed to be asymptomatic and feeling great, but his exposure to the virus remains unknown. If his Monday test was, in fact, inconclusive, it would suggest that Turner had only recently contracted the virus. He could still be days away from showing his first symptoms and already fully capable of infecting those around him.
Dodgers relievers threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball. They allowed just two hits and struck out 12. Snell might have been able to match or surpass that line had he gotten the chance. His manager decided his bullpen was better positioned to succeed. Looking back, he was probably wrong.
Soon after the celebration began, Turner emerged from the dugout and joined his teammates. Postgame interviews revealed that he, and the Dodgers, pleaded with MLB to allow him to join his teammates even while he could spread the virus. Either the league relented or no one stopped him. Neither is acceptable.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts became the first Asian-American and second Black manager to win a World Series. He is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the body’s immune system, putting him at particularly high risk of a severe COVID infection. During the team’s celebration, Turner joined his team for a picture with the championship trophy. Roberts is less than a yard from Turner; neither are wearing masks.
The Dodgers won the World Series, but the realities of the 2020 MLB season are not over. The ripple effects of this obvious break in MLB’s so-called “playoff bubble” and blatant disregard for scientific realities will very likely go on for weeks. The harshest consequences could last even longer.
Baseball’s beauty has proved a powerful distraction throughout the season. While the league dealt with positive tests, multiple outbreaks, and dozens of rescheduled games, the games themselves remained the primary story. There will be no game tomorrow. No one will hit a monster home run, no aces will get pulled in the sixth inning to spark debate, and no one will take the field.
MLB, at least for the next few months, no longer has baseball to save them.
There will only be the medical realities for the people subjected to the league’s crowd experiments and most obvious malpractice of the year: allowing a clearly COVID-19 positive person to have close contact with anyone he wanted.
*All COVID-19 data via WorldOMeters
Most SF Giants fans were upset that their biggest rival finally found a way to win a World Series in the 21st century. Almost immediately, the championship became secondary. While the Dodgers celebrated their title on the field, the negligence of MLB towered over the celebration. Going forward, that shouldn’t change. The Dodgers championship doesn’t deserve an asterisk, but the 2020 season deserves to be remembered as one of the lowest moments in the league’s recent history.