A disaster in progress, MLB's 2020 season might depend on the next twist

·Columnist

The current plan, according to ESPN, for the coronavirus-quarantined Miami Marlins is to have all of the team’s infected players, coaches and staffers board a few sleeper buses in Philadelphia, where they’ve been holed up since they began testing positive nearly a week ago. They would then embark on a lengthy (17 hours at least) ride back to South Florida ... which, of course, is about to be hit by a hurricane.

They said the coronavirus would kill the summer movie blockbuster but here comes something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer production for everyone to watch, free and in realtime … a bus full of infected people, in the middle of a global pandemic, barrel into a natural disaster.

Maybe The Rock could drive the bus. Whomever is stuck with that task deserves more than just a Derek Jeter going-away gift basket. In reality, there aren’t a whole lot of good options for the Marlins at this point.

Welcome to Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, just over a week old and already teetering on the brink of collapse.

It opened with grand hopes and much fanfare. Everyone was happy baseball was back and everyone was rooting that a plan based heavily on personal responsibility and good luck would work. A 60-game sprint of a regular season. An expanded playoff derby. Mookie Betts throwing dudes out at third.

That optimism lasted all of four days, when the Marlins had a big outbreak, 21 members of the organization and counting testing positive.

MLB is investigating whether it was the result of players not staying in their rooms and hitting a hotel bar, and perhaps other places, during a “spring training” series in Atlanta. (No word on whether any Magic City lemon pepper chicken wings were involved.)

From there, it’s only grown more chaotic. 

The St. Louis Cardinals are now dealing with their own outbreak, which caused Friday and Saturday’s games to be postponed (and likely more to come). In total, MLB has had 15 games postponed, including three games scratched on Friday alone. On the plus side, two games were made up by switching opponents.

MLB's attempt to play a 60-game season in home cities has hit stumbling blocks quickly, first an outbreak on the Miami Marlins and now positive tests on the St. Louis Cardinals. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MLB's attempt to play a 60-game season in home cities has hit stumbling blocks quickly, first an outbreak on the Miami Marlins and now positive tests on the St. Louis Cardinals. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has reportedly told union boss Tony Clark that “if the sport doesn't do a better job of managing the coronavirus, it could shut down for the season.” 

That could come as soon as Monday. Additional reports say broadcast partners have already been told to prepare for the possibility that they’ll need to show something other than live games on that day. 

The concerns run the gamut from what players are doing away from the park to a lack of social distancing in dugouts, including the spitting of sunflower seeds and the exchanging of high-fives, which MLB has prohibited.

About the only good news is that no players from the Philadelphia Phillies, who played the Marlins, tested positive. That’s encouraging. Very encouraging. If these teams could be saved from themselves, then maybe this can still work.

MLB is now proposing things like hall monitors in team hotels to keep the players in their room. That ranks behind the Marlins’ corona-bus driver in the race for the worst job in baseball, but still doesn’t sound like much fun. Regardless, it should have been protocol from day one.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee announced on Saturday that center fielder Lorenzo Cain decided to opt out of the rest of the season, which could signal a new wave of players who decide this just isn’t worth it. 

To help make up for the lost games, MLB will now allow doubleheaders to be played that only last seven innings. No word on if they will feature mercy rules, postgame popsicles or be contested in Williamsport

There is no shame in changing course and trying to solve problems on the fly. Good on MLB for trying. It’s all hands (and ideas) on deck at this point. Maybe things can steady and the season can survive. Rocky starts don’t always lead to shipwrecks.

That said, it’s fairly clear that the sport wasn’t prepared in the first place. The plan needed to be better. Protocols needed to be more strict. When you can’t make it a few days, let alone a few weeks, before upending everything then failure was inevitable. 

Maybe everyone should have paid attention to the government of Canada, which reviewed MLB’s return-to-action plan and declared that it would rather kick the Toronto Blue Jays out of the country than allow MLB games inside its borders.

The Blue Jays got deported to Buffalo and while some will scream that the Canadians are too cautious about things, they actually aren’t. First off, they have the virus fairly under control there — Canada’s 6,100 active cases is equal to Delaware, despite having 40 times the population. 

Secondly, after the Canadian government and various health officials reviewed the stringent and expensive two-bubble plan presented by the National Hockey League, they concluded it was safe and sound. It then welcomed the entire league to set up shop for a few months in Toronto and Edmonton. 

Canada accepted 24 hockey teams but not one from baseball. It was the early warning sign that was ignored, leading to lots of drama, potential destruction and a bus ride from hell smack dab into a hurricane.

Like it often is with big summer movies, sometimes you can see the plot twists coming. 

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