Let’s start with everything we should be talking about today in that narrow, rapidly collapsing space of escape from the political golems beating down our doors. We should be talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers—one of the great historic franchises in all of sports—winning their first World Series in 32 seasons, after years of devastating near-misses. We should be talking about Mookie Betts, the Dodgers’ right fielder and a player who—if MLB knew how to market anything beyond the building of a stadium on public money—could be a global superstar of swag. We should be talking about Los Angeles, a place that has had a hell of a hard year even by 2020 standards, now a city of champions, with the Dodgers’ following the Lakers’ victory in the NBA Finals. We should be talking about the greatest baseball announcer in history, Vin Scully, who at age 92 was able to celebrate another Dodgers World Series win and tweet his joy.
Instead, as with everything in 2020, we are talking about Covid. The only way this could be a more depressing coda to a thrilling World Series would be if Trump himself gave a speech at game’s end praising himself for the Dodgers’ victory.
Baseball has always, even more than other sports, reflected the times in which we live. Last night the national pastime, in this regard, did not disappoint. Dodgers third baseman, the man with the fire-red hair and firebrand personality, Justin Turner—recognized as the heart of the team—has entered the realm of infamy after being pulled from the game in the eighth inning on orders from Major League Baseball for having tested positive for the coronavirus.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. After being told to self-isolate, Turner insisted on being on the field for the postgame celebration. And so there he was—unmasked, kissing his wife, and commingling with his teammates. He sat for commemorative photos next to his beloved manager, Dave Roberts, who 10 years ago was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, putting him at an exceptionally high risk if he ends up contracting the virus.
Turner should have never taken the field in the first place. His initial test came back “inconclusive.” The Dodgers and MLB let him play anyway, at least until his sample—tested and retested—came back positive.
Turner expressed no regret in the aftermath, tweeting,
Thanks to everyone reaching out! I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA.
But it’s difficult to throw the blame on Turner. Whether we are talking about concussions in football or Covid in baseball, protocols exist to protect players from themselves—and in the case of Covid, from each other. Players have devoted damn near every day of their lives to make it to the apex of their sports. Of course Justin Turner—hair figuratively on fire—needed with every fiber of his being to be on that field to celebrate with his teammates. Of course his team was going to welcome him with open arms, no matter the microbes that would pass between them. Mookie Betts himself said of Turner, “He’s part of the team. We’re not excluding him from anything.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred should have shown some modicum of leadership. He should have stepped in and made sure that Turner was nowhere near that field at the start of the game until there was certainty about his test. Then, after finding out he was positive, there should have been a Greg Luzinski–sized wall between Turner and that celebration. That there was not is an incredible indictment of Major League Baseball, the Dodgers organization, and the ways that this country has miseducated people about the deadly seriousness of what we face.
As this pandemic drama was playing out, thousands of Trump supporters were finding themselves stranded in the freezing cold in Omaha, Neb., after yet another super-spreader rally. The two events are mirror images of why the United States has seen 230,000 people die from this virus, with almost 9 million infected. It didn’t have to be this bad: The curses of ego, entitlement, and ignorance have overcome this country and infected the innocent from the White House to the World Series. As we now wring our hands—and people on each side of Covid barricades scream their case about whether the Dodgers were grossly irresponsible or if people like myself are just pandemic hysterics—baseball has truly never felt more like the national pastime.