What other sports can learn from Major League Baseball’s COVID failures

a baseball sitting on an empty pitcher's mound
Image available from Joel Dinda under CC BY 2.0

With baseball being the first major sport to start back up after the coronavirus, a lot of hope and excitement was placed behind it, but fans of other sports stood to learn a lot based on how COVID-19 spread through the league.

The MLB is not using a bubble system and instead massively changed the usual schedule to include shorter travel times by playing teams closer to them. Any player would have to test negative for the virus on two consecutive tests 24 hours apart in order to return after testing positive. Several players opted to not play baseball entirely in order to protect their family or loved ones or even themselves. These were all established early on in the season and theoretically the lack of baseball being a contact sport would help baseball thrive despite the virus.

It was a rough start. Washington Nationals star Juan Soto tested positive on opening day and had to sit out. Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel of the Cincinnati Reds were out with no confirmation as to why. It seemed like the season was doomed from the start and that it was only a matter of time before the season was cancelled yet again.

They were wrong. Soto was eventually cleared. Moustakas and Senzel returned, still giving fans no knowledge of their situations. Hell, baseball was in great shape. No team started the season with three straight wins since 1954. No team started the season with three straight losses for the first time in history. The Baltimore Orioles led the American League East division. The San Diego Padres started 4-1 for the first time since 1997. The Miami Marlins led the National League East after going 2-1, marking the latest in the year they have ever led the division.

Speaking of Miami, several players on the Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. It makes some sense; Florida was already a hotspot for the virus. They might have to field a bad team, but they honestly were already fielding a bad team. More of them tested positive. And more. The number reached 16.

It got worse. They knew of multiple positives heading into their game with Philadelphia. They slammed on the brakes, cancelling the New York/Philadelphia games that were planned. The Orioles had a similar plan, postponing their scheduled games in Miami. The atmosphere surrounding baseball got really quiet and really stressful. The MLB owners had a meeting and ultimately decided not to cancel the season, but the term “in jeopardy” was used a lot. There was speculation that if any Phillies tested positive, it was over.

They didn’t. The light at the end of the tunnel had arrived, and there were zero new positives among players in the entirety of baseball outside of Miami. Three people within the Philadelphia organization tested positive, but no players. For all intents and purposes, baseball was saved for the time being. That said, it left a deep impression of just how brutal this virus can be.

There’s no telling what is going to become of the Marlins right now, but it gave the NFL and NBA some much-needed insight on how to prepare. It seems like the NBA had it right with their bubble technique, herding all players into Orlando. Lou Williams snuck out to a strip club to get wings and will miss two games thanks to a 10-day mandated quarantine. Overall, it seems like it’s working for now.

The NFL has a huge task ahead of them. Football is all about physicality, and it’s simply not practical to bubble with just how large NFL rosters are. There’s a steady flow of players opting out of the season, including six Patriots so far. There have been no delays to the season, but there will be work to do if they want to avoid the issues currently facing the MLB.