Angels Players Take It Upon Themselves To Set Additional Coronavirus Protocols
Major League Baseball’s 113-page health and safety protocol strictly mandates what health precautions players must take at team facilities and, in some cases, their homes and team hotels.
Enforcing the mandates at the stadium is the easy part. Enforcing the mandates away from the ballpark is nearly impossible, and will require massive buy-in from players to police themselves and avoid situations where they could be exposed to COVID-19.
The Angels are one team providing a possible template for what that might look like.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler and a group of team leaders, including lefthander Andrew Heaney, have laid out additional regulations the team expects its players to follow for the 2020 season. Enforcement will not come from MLB, but from the players themselves.
“As information changes, we’re going to be flexible with how we’re going to handle it,” said Heaney, the Angels’ representative to the players' union. “But right now, it’s like hey, if you’re not at the field, if you’re not in your car, if you’re not at your house, you need to wear a mask. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a state that doesn’t enforce it. Doesn’t matter. You’re going to wear a mask. If you’re getting food, get it to go. Get it delivered. Don’t go sit down and eat anywhere. Don’t go to bars, don’t go to large gatherings.
“I think most of those are pretty much, in my opinion, common sense and everybody should be doing that. But we just want to make sure that everybody is on the same page and really understanding that it really is one of those situations that if you start getting a little bit of a crack, it can really expand and wreak havoc in a clubhouse. I think everybody understands that risk is real, and so we’re trying to do the best we can do to cover all our bases.”
Player behavior away from the ballpark is going to be a critical element of MLB’s success in completing a 60-game season amidst the coronavirus pandemic. By electing not to play the shortened season in a “bubble” where player movement could be tightly controlled, like the NBA, MLB effectively entrusted players to make smart decisions away from the field on their own.
“It’s really going to come down to … being the best version of yourself as a teammate right now,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s up to us to do the right things away from here. That’s really paramount. And if we continue to do that, we’ve got a pretty good chance of pulling this off. If you cannot abide by the protocols and you can’t the best teammate you can possibly be, then it’s not going to work.
“You can even be that and still some things can go awry. Of course they can. But at the end of the day when you put your head down to the pillow, as long as you know you did everything according to the plan, you should be okay with that.”
In the week since the mandatory reporting date to summer camps, MLB’s restart has not gone particularly smooth. Delays in receiving COVID-19 test results caused the Athletics, Astros, Cardinals and Nationals to cancel workouts this week. Phillies outfielder Adam Haseley was held out of the start of summer camp because the team never got his test results back. Most Valuable Player award winners Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Kris Bryant have all expressed reservations about the safety of playing this season. The list of players who have tested positive for COVID-19 is growing and includes standouts such as Freddie Freeman, Joey Gallo, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Salvador Perez, as well as top prospects like Jesus Luzardo, Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Bishop and Seth Beer.
Still, the overall numbers are encouraging. MLB’s initial report of intake testing results was revealed to be incomplete, but ESPN reported the complete results of intake testing—i.e. testing when players first arrived at summer camps—yielded 66 positives out of 3,470 tests, a 1.8% positive rate. That compares favorably to the NBA, which reported 5.3% of players testing positive during its first wave of mandatory testing.
The task for MLB now is ensuring that 1.8% rate does not increase. For the league, that means ironing out the testing snafus and ensuring teams follow proper protocols. For the players, that means avoiding risky situations away from the park.
The Angels, for one, have taken a proactive approach to make sure the latter won’t be a problem.
“It’s about a lot more than just your own personal health and safety,” Heaney said. “That’s obviously important to everybody. But just as important is your teammates, your staff, your teammate’s family, your staff’s family, the community. All of those things are important to us. So as a team we’ve set some guidelines to how we’d like to see guys handle their business outside of the facilities.
“Billy and some of our player leadership made that point pretty clear, so I think everybody has an understanding of what needs to be done.”