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OC Register: Whicker: Regardless of the reality, the worries about MLB’s health are highly contagious

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The count is 0-and-2.

Thirteen Miami Marlins have tested positive for the coronavirus, including four on Sunday in Philadelphia.

They did not fly home to open their season before the customary crowd of zero. They were  marooned in Philadelphia to make sure nobody else was sick. It seemed likely the Marlins would resume their season with a bus trip to Baltimore.

Concerned that the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park had become a hot zone, the Yankees did not play in Philadelphia Monday, but the Marlins could have picked up the bug from Atlanta, where they played an exhibition last Wednesday, and where both varsity catches were felled by the virus. Reportedly the Yankees were bringing their own clubhouse personnel to Philly.

It is not supposed to be so dangerous to participate in a major league schedule, and if you’re still convinced that young and healthy people are immune, then you aren’t reading the daily death graph.

You also didn’t hear Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman describe his 104.5 degree temperature and wonder, aloud, if he would literally make it through the night, although he is back and functioning.

Angels manager Joe Maddon cautioned against “conclusion-jumping.” Most everyone who has dipped his toe three games into this 60-game farce feels the same way. Play ball and restore the American tradition and all that, without false starts.

But even if this episode is arrested, and the Marlins, Phillies, Yankees and Orioles find a way to get back on the road to October, the confidence level in baseball is as flimsy as the faux hundred or so fans behind the plate.

The season slides closer to the cliff each time there’s a next man down.

“There’s a heightened level of concern, understandably so,” Maddon said before the Angels’ game at Oakland Monday.

The Phillies’ Bryce Harper was concerned enough to wear a mask during Sunday’s game. He and many colleagues might envy those who refused to cross the line, who balked at starting the season because of high personal risk, or lack of faith.

One was David Price, the lefthander who came to the Dodgers with Mookie Betts.

“Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players’ health first,” Price tweeted Monday. “Remember when (commissioner Rob) Manfred said players’ health was PARAMOUNT? Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players’ health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.”

So how to distinguish alarmism from realism?

“Nobody thought that the players wouldn’t get this,” said noted players’ representative Scott Boras. “It’s not going away. But South Korean teams have been in operation for 90 to 120 days without hospitalizations. Most players who test positive are asymptomatic, and we’re getting a lot of false positives, too.

“Overall I think the league has had a tremendous response. The virus is very contagious and isolation is necessary. The protocols must be followed, and you will run into hot spots like this. But we are not talking about a high percentage of players. I talk to a lot of immunologists and the strain of this virus has become less severe. I’ll say this: The players are in a lot less danger than they would be in normal life.”

All true, but it will become an increasingly difficult sell if this keeps happening. It also might behoove MLB to test the players more than once every two days.

Much of it comes from beyond sports, and involves the quality of leadership.

The English Premier League tested 2,208 players and staff between July 13 and 19 and wound up with zero positives. In fact, the league has had no more than one positive in any testing period in its past seven, or since June 11-12.

The Premier League tested its players twice a week, but then it generally plays only once a week, with minimal travel. Any player who tested positive was forced to isolate for seven days. They’re also playing elite soccer throughout Europe, and the Aussies are playing their own football, and the European PGA Tour resumed play last weekend.

When the Toronto Blue Jays are basically forced to use Airbnb to find a place to play baseball because Canada doesn’t want to be invaded by Americans, the problem goes a lot deeper than MLB. Canada has lost 241 citizens per million citizens. The U.S. has lost 446.

If people want to revisit the ballparks at any point in 2020, or even watch on TV, they need to mask up and flatten this hanging curve the way Mike Trout would.

We’re always told that the game reflects America. This time it’s actually true.



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