Tribe Pitchers Provide Insight Into Team Dynamic Over COVID-19, Potential Impact On Browns

Pete Smith

The actions of Cleveland Indians pitchers in Chicago has provided a spotlight on the ramifications of individual failure to adhere to protocols for COVID-19 and the potential fallout within a team, a local example for the Cleveland Browns.

Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac broke protocol on the road, leaving the team hotel and go out in Chicago. Plesac owned up to it while Clevinger didn't, was in the clubhouse the day after and flew back with his teammates on the team plane before being found out that he was out with Plesac.

Both pitchers have been placed on the restricted list and will have to pass tests for COVID-19 when they return. They are also likely to face additional punishment from the team.

After their game on Tuesday, fellow pitcher Adam Plutko made comments that reflect both the team dynamic in sports and can really be applied to society at large.

The team dynamic and violating the clubhouse trust is certainly something that can be applied to football and the Cleveland Browns. This comes down to respect and courtesy when it comes to teammates, understanding that being selfish isn't simply an individual act, but hurts everybody.

Yes, they miss out on a start each and could be out longer, which impacts the chances the Indians win games. Beyond that, if they come back and test positive for COVID-19, Clevinger has potentially exposed his teammates to a virus that can have devastating effects.

Carlos Carrasco is a cancer survivor as one example. And while he was not with the team due to a gastrointestinal issue, manager Terry Francona is someone else potentially at a much higher risk for the most serious symptoms of infection.

Baseball is a different sport than football. It's far more individualized. Starting pitchers typically pitch once every five days. It can isolate them from the rest of the team. When they are on the mound, it's simply them against the hitter. Only one hitter can step into the batter's box at a time.

The culture of baseball, one player being able to win a game for his team regardless of what anyone else does, can further a sense of the individual over team. Attitudes and actions can sometimes reflect that. 

The best players in football can take over a game, but they still always have ten teammates out there with them. Undoubtedly, there are players that can be self absorbed and selfish, but the game of football is always reinforcing the idea that it's about the team.

One of the best aspects of football is the importance of team, the fact that it's incredibly difficult for one player to win a game by themselves. Quarterbacks need blocking and someone to catch the ball. Running backs need help from blockers. Wide receivers need someone to get them the ball. All of them need defense and special teams to function.

The actions of Clevinger and Plesac and the responses from teammates including Plutko showcase a dynamic that could play out in football locker rooms like the Browns. It's about trust.

Unlike the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins, this particular situation can be squarely placed on two individuals, who now have to try to repair that broken trust.

Browns corner Denzel Ward and running back Nick Chubb, on conference calls Tuesday, spoke about the trust they have in their teammates to adhere to protocols.

“I am very confident. I feel like we have some smart guys on the team, guys that are going to take care of their business. Already being here, the organization, they are doing a good job of just going through protocols, keeping us sanitized, making sure we keep our masks on and everything. I feel like guys are going to do good, as well, once they get off the field and go home.” - Denzel Ward

“I think we are going to do a great job. (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski has really told us, ‘Do your part. If everybody does their part, we will be OK.’ I think our guys on the team, we understand that. You have old veterans who know better and who have been in the game a while, and you have young rookies who want to make the team so they are going to do everything right. If everybody does our part right, just follow the protocols, the guidelines and things like that, I think we will have a season.” - Nick Chubb

The Browns roster is currently 80 players, but will be down to a 53-man roster plus a practice squad. That's triple the size of a baseball clubhouse and will still be more than double when they cut down to their final roster. It only takes one person to break protocols and screw it up for everyone else.

Nevertheless, the culture of football, the way the sport works, it's constantly reinforcing the notion of team and family. The Browns coaching staff led by Kevin Stefanski will undoubtedly take full advantage of the misstep by Clevinger and use that as a teachable moment for his team.

As much as no one wants to see this type of incident happen, regardless of the team or sport, it provides a valuable example for teams trying to navigate this pandemic. Nothing Clevinger or Plesac did was illegal. They didn't get arrested. They didn't drive drunk or engage in behavior far more regrettable.

Yet the gravity of this situation is significant. There was anger in what Plutko said. Francona's statements have been filled with an overwhelming sense of disappointment. The lack of regard for the safety of teammates is galling and it impacts the clubhouse.

Casey Drottar of Cleveland Baseball Insider asks the question on everyone's mind - What do the Indians do with Mike Clevinger?

The Cleveland Browns are going through conditioning and walk throughs this week, seeing the seriousness of one selfish act on a club as a team. One lapse in judgment. The way the NFL is set up, players won't have the opportunity to go out in road cities, but they aren't in a bubble either. They have the ability to make this type of misstep in Cleveland or on a bye week.

Stefanski has been a proponent of open dialogue about issues going on in society including racism and social justice. Clevinger and Plesac are going to come up and players are going to be able to voice their thoughts on the situation. Social justice and the encouragement by the organization for players to get involved and use their platform seemingly has provided the team a reason to invest themselves in this team and a unified sense of purpose. There's the potential for that bond to grow stronger over a commitment to keep each other safe from COVID-19.

The fact that baseball players have guaranteed contracts and NFL players don't provides a massive incentive for football players to avoid putting themselves at risk. With the exception of a choice few, so many players on the Browns have to think that failure to follow protocols inside or outside the structure of the team could jeopardize their roster spot and their income.

The idea that they might have to go home and explain to their families that they lost their job and career because they couldn't stay out of a bar, as an example, might be incentive enough to be on their best behavior. 

Time will tell if the Browns are able to avoid the situation the Indians currently find themselves, but they can't say they weren't warned.

Register today for free or log in to access this premium article.
Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Clevinger put a whole team and league at risk with his actions

Featured Content