What were they thinking?
Watching the Dodgers celebrate their first World Series in 32 years was an anxiety-inducing experience. Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt had informed viewers just before the start of the trophy ceremony that Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner had tested positive for the coronavirus. And yet, here were his teammates—in epidemiological terms, his “close contacts”—milling about in close proximity, hugging, high-fiving and shaking hands, potentially spreading the virus to even more members of the team and their families.
And then Turner showed up.
In the celebratory team photo, Turner is dead-center, between the trophy and manager Dave Roberts, not wearing a mask. In fact, only one person in the photo is wearing a mask over their entire face: pitcher Dustin May, who’s standing all the way in the back.
“My understanding, from various people, is that he was told not to go on the field, or asked not to go on the field,” Rosenthal said on air. “He insisted upon it, the Dodgers insisted upon it, and that is why he was out there.”
Missing out on the celebration would have surely been heartbreaking for Turner. He’s a 12-year veteran who didn’t become a star-level player until he was 29. This is the pinnacle of his career and the thought of being unable to share that moment with his teammates would be unbearable.
Still, Turner’s actions are incredibly selfish. Not only did he put those around him at risk—Rosenthal pointed out in a column for The Athletic that Roberts is a cancer survivor, Kenley Jansen has a heart problem and at least one Dodgers player has a wife who is pregnant—he also sent a horrible message to people watching at home.
It’s been more than seven months since the pandemic exploded in the U.S. and people are getting tired of having to behave cautiously. Everyone would love to have a party on a private island like Kim Kardashian and “pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time” but that’s just not how it works.
All throughout this country, the situation with the pandemic is getting worse. Utah is preparing to start rationing healthcare. El Paso has told residents to stay home for two weeks and is setting up a field hospital in a convention center. Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital near Milwaukee. Experts warn that the winter is going to be even worse.
In the absence of effective messaging from government leaders, the actions of other public figures can be a powerful factor in influencing peoples’ behavior. Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier explained in July that he planned to wear a mask in the field because of the message it sends.
“I'm just trying to show that it's easy to do and it's the right thing to do,” he told MLB.com. “If it helps a little bit, it's not hard to do, so I'm going to try to do it as much as I can. Hopefully someone sees it and maybe they do it, too.”
He put up the best offensive numbers of his career and is a finalist for the Gold Glove, which should quiet anyone who claims a mask makes their trip to the grocery store more arduous.
Turner’s decision to go on the field, and the decision by the Dodgers and MLB not to tell him what a bad idea it was and have him removed, sends the message that if something means as much to you as a World Series ring does to Justin Turner, it’s all right to throw caution to the wind and knowingly expose people to the virus.
We won’t know for a few days whether the Dodgers are experiencing an outbreak. It’s possible Turner’s was an isolated case and that the fact most people were wearing masks for the majority of the celebration means there was no additional transmission. Or the celebration could have been last month’s White House event.
Either way, Turner, the team and the league have a lot of explaining to do. If they’re smart, they’ll also apologize for being so glib about a deadly disease.
The Turner mess really let Kevin Cash off the hook by overshadowing his decision to pull Blake Snell
Until all the business with Turner came out, I thought I’d be leading my column this morning with something about Kevin Cash’s decision to pull Blake Snell in the sixth inning after he’d given up just his second hit.
Did it cost the Rays the game? Maybe, maybe not. Though the Dodgers scored two runs immediately after Snell was pulled, the Tampa Bay offense wasn’t getting anything done. The one run the Rays scored before Snell was pulled probably wasn’t going to hold up for the rest of the game anyway.
It’s clear why Cash pulled Snell, even though he appeared to be cruising. The Rays have been at the forefront of recognizing the third-time-through-the-order penalty for pitchers. Research shows that there’s no such thing as a pitcher who’s in a groove. Facing the best hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup for a third time, Snell—who hasn’t pitched into the seventh inning since May 2019—could have easily melted down.
It may have been the logical move but it’s still a bummer for fans. Starting pitchers are the central figures in the narrative of an individual game, especially in the playoffs. We want to see them go as deep into the game as possible, until they leave the game in triumph or implode spectacularly. It gives the viewer a through line that makes the game easier to follow in the moment and helps it stick out in their memories after the fact. Think of Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series (and his five innings of scoreless relief in Game 7) or Grady Little leaving Pedro Martínez in too long against the Yankees in 2003.
Pulling starters in the fifth or sixth—or, even worse, the opener strategy—robs viewers of that cohesive narrative. Imagine watching a movie where there’s a new main character every 20 minutes.
The math may say it’s the right thing to do, but it gives the sense that baseball is becoming a math experiment acted out by human beings. I don’t think there’s any way to fix it, either.
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