Friday, May 15, 2020

Testing, Testing

We're starting to hear more about MLB's evolving plan to get back to playing baseball. According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, frequent testing will be the key to keeping the players safe and the game going. They have invested in a lab in Utah that used to do drug testing and converted it to testing for COVID-19. MLB intends to test players and support personnel multiple times a week and process those tests within 24 hours.

Anyone who tests positive will be quarantined until they test negatively twice in a 24 hour period. In the meantime, they will test everyone with whom the infected person came into contact. Any of those who test positive will be quarantined, and their contacts will also be tested. It sounds like a pretty solid plan, a good first step in bringing back the game safely. Reading about it brought up a few questions in my mind, however.
  1. This is the kind of testing and contact tracing that has long been talked about as necessary to keep all of us safe as we slowly get back as close as possible to our normal life. From everything I read we are many months, if not years, away from a vaccine that would allow all of us to get our lives back completely. While MLB plans to make some public testing available from their lab, it is still going to be true that ballplayers are going to have a vastly superior testing support system around them than the rest of us. Will the general public start resenting this?

  2. It occurs to me that all of the testing for Coronavirus inside and outside of the game is going to likely put a crimp on other testing. How effectively will baseball and other sports be able to test for PED use? I assume ramped-up COVID-19 testing will continue to keep the materials needed for any testing kits in short supply for the foreseeable future. Will this open a backdoor for the cheaters to prosper in baseball again?

  3. Can there be any doubt that teams are going to be severely impacted if several of their best players test positive and have to be quarantined? How about if 3 of your starting pitchers go down at once? Will there be a point where games have to be suspended if a team is heavily impacted, and if so, does that shut down the whole league? We can't know what will happen, but MLB will likely face some really tough choices if the virus penetrates their efforts to keep it out.
These questions seem important to me, particularly the first. I live in Connecticut, one of the hardest hit areas of the country. It's still difficult to get tested for COVID-19 here if you're concerned that you actually have it. The idea of frequent testing, contact tracing and quarantine for the general public seems like a pipe dream right now. The state is beginning the process of getting back some part of normal on May 20. The problem is that it's going to be hard to feel normal if you have great uncertainty for your safety and the safety of family, friends and your community.

All of us wish we could close our eyes and wish this all away. Since I'm pretty sure that won't work, I want to see the protocols baseball is talking about make it down to the rest of us. The idea of going back out in the world as a "warrior for the economy", an idea put forward by some extremely wealthy folks and politicians who are personally insulated from danger, does not appeal to me. All I have is this one life, and I'm not willing to risk throwing it away so those folks can prosper. The longer the rest of us have to wait for a regular testing regime to keep us safe, the more resentment there will be.

As for the second point, I honestly can't see how MLB will be able to test for PEDs at a level anything close to what they do normally. There is a percentage of players who will no doubt take a chance on cheating if they see an opening. If the players go into some kind of quarantine, as was discussed in the All Arizona plan from early March, this would probably prohibit their access to PEDs. The plan that MLB is discussing now doesn't seem to involve total quarantine for the players, however.

Given that players (Hello, Robinson Cano) have failed PED tests in previous years with robust testing, it seems quite likely reduced testing for banned substances will encourage more to go that route. It bothers me somewhat, but it would be hard to argue that PED testing is even fractionally as important as testing to protect people's health.

In regard to my third point, I have little doubt that games will be won and lost this season due to players being quarantined. It's just a part of what we as fans will have to accept to get baseball back. The game is not going to stop if your best player or even several of them get infected. This will be on top of all the weirdness caused by a short season, restricted travel and the possibility that some players will not want to take the risks of playing even with what looks like decent safety protocols.

I don't really mind that, if that's the price to be paid to get baseball back. There is no way that 2020 will be a normal anything. It certainly won't be a normal baseball season. If somehow the Mets are able to win a championship this season it will not feel the same as if they won it all in a normal season and a normal year, but it will still feel great. Anything that gets us closer to normal than we are is a very good thing.

I have more I wanted to write about, so I will do my best to post again today. I have to take a break now because the meds I am taking for my back are starting to make me woozy. In the meantime, please stay well. Thank you for taking time out of your day to stop by here. It is always appreciated.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. Great point about MLB and possible reduced PED testing. I don't think anyone else thought of that.


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