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The Challenge of Baseball in a Pandemic: The MLB’s Handling of the COVID-19 Season

A complete breakdown of the issues of running a national sports league in the COVID era

Will Glasby, Staff Reporter
Originally published December 1st, 2020

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With the conclusion of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season resulting in the Dodgers securing their first World Series title since 1988, we start to look back on how this entire COVID-19 season was handled. 

The battle between owners and players to figure out a makeshift season for a year that seemed lost, the outbreaks that happened and were mostly controlled and the financial issues that hit teams.

I spoke with Chicago Cubs fan and Junior Elee Mortensen about the MLB season. Elee follows the MLB and is a massive baseball fan.

“The MLB did a good job of controlling what they could by having players regularly get tested and wear masks and such,” Mortensen said. “However, I think some individual organizations need to step it up. For example, the Cardinals organization has an outbreak because players went to a casino. 

These players didn’t fear being reprimanded by their organization, or they would’ve made the smart choice.”

 An upside of these mini-outbreaks is that the MLB developed and refined their quarantine and testing processes through seeing what went wrong and what worked. The players showed their appreciation of the efforts the league made to help “right the ship”.

“I admired how the employees were also tested,” Mortensen said. “As well as the fact that some players pledged sums of money towards those employees when it was still unknown whether they would be paid or not.”

The MLB postseason was also put to the test in a new format that was designed to help make up lost days and even the playing field by adding three extra spots for each league. 

This allowed more teams to have a chance at getting into the playoffs by opening up almost 3 extra spots in both leagues. Teams that weren’t expected to even be close to making the playoffs now have just as good a chance as any other.

However, there was one hiccup at the end of the final game of the world series. Justin Turner, third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tested positive for the virus but still came out onto the field to celebrate.

“I think the playoffs were handled fairly well. The only exception was in cases like Justin Turner’s where he was allowed to go out and celebrate with his teammates without a mask after being informed he tested positive for COVID-19,” said Mortensen. “That shouldn’t have been allowed whatsoever, especially if he’s not even allowed to even play.”

 This was a major issue at the end of the World Series, and it launched an investigation by the MLB into why Turner was still even near the stadium in the first place. Luckily, there were no other confirmed cases and only Turner and his wife stayed behind as the rest of the team flew home virus-free.

Overall, the MLB was able to corral the virus and go the full three months of the season with little damage; the financial hits have started to pop up in player salaries, but not by much. 

The only big issue will most likely be the difficulty for league average free-agents (players who are not contractually locked up by a team who are looking for someone to sign with) as teams will have to be more stingy with their lowered budgets. 

But in the grand scheme of things, the 2020 season has been reassuring for next year, which might result in teams back and playing in the usual late March.

Hopefully we will have fans back in ballparks so we can boo the Houston Astros.

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The Challenge of Baseball in a Pandemic: The MLB’s Handling of the COVID-19 Season