You’d think baseball, of all sports, would know the dangers of celebrating before the final out is in the books. You’d think the Dodgers, just three days removed from one of the most wrenching last-second defeats in World Series history, would realize that a game’s not over just because you want it to be.
And yet baseball might have just managed to blow a 10-run, two-out, two-strike, bottom-of-the-ninth lead on COVID-19, all because Justin Turner had to get his picture with the World Series trophy after being pulled from the lineup in the 8th inning for testing positive.
I don’t know what it’s like to win a World Series, and probably neither do you. But here’s what we all do know: We know what it’s like to go months without hugging our distant loved ones. We know what it’s like to watch children wear cute little masks, unaware of how heartbreaking that is. We know what it’s like to stare, day after day, at the same walls, at the same computer screen. We know what it’s like to worry about the health of our older relatives, worry about the effects on kids kept out of school, worry about our jobs and our mental health. We know difficult times demand difficult choices.
So, yeah, when you see someone like Turner just casually flaunting the hard-and-fast, no-gray-area rules a billion-dollar industry put in place to preserve some sense of normalcy (yes, and financial solvency) — it doesn’t go over so well. You see Turner — a guy who, again, literally just tested positive for COVID-19 — happily partying mask-off among his teammates, the same way you see beachgoers or attendees at a rally mingling up cheek-to-cheek, and you want to rip your television off the wall.
Make no mistake: This isn’t about mask-shaming or pearl-clutching scare tactics about “what might happen if.” This is science. The dude had a positive test. This isn’t “acceptable risk.” This is willfully endangering others — and their kids, and their older relatives — in the midst of a new surge for a few minutes of celebration.
I know all the smug defenses — the almost-certain survival rate for someone in Turner’s demographic; the relatively low possibility of transmission in an open-air environment; the fact that he might have already infected teammates before the test results were known; the whole aw, come on, let ’em celebrate mindset. I also know that you only need to look as far as the Dodgers’ bullpen to see what COVID-19 can do to even healthy pro athletes.
Closer Kenley Jansen contracted COVID-19 prior to the start of the season, and it wracked him for two full weeks. “Recovering from COVID was tough,” Jansen told ESPN this week. “You still feel side effects once in a while. Your body feels — I don’t know, fighting it.”
Turner is the focus here, but he’s not the scapegoat; he had plenty of enablers along the way. Baseball and the Dodgers have plenty to answer for here too. After a stumbling start with multiple infections across several teams, the cries of “Shut it down!” surged. But baseball found its footing and pressed on, and like the NBA and NHL, played for weeks on end — 58 straight days, until Turner — without a positive test. That’s an admirable testament — plus a healthy share of good luck — to the league and the players who sacrificed for a greater purpose.
But the league owes the Dodgers a fruit basket for winning Tuesday night. Had baseball adhered to its own guidelines, Game 7 would have likely been postponed, with many of Turner’s teammates potentially quarantined as well. A Game 6 victory prevented that public-relations nightmare, but couldn’t prevent the terrible optics of Turner sitting on the field, unmasked and grinning, amid dozens of teammates and team officials.
Team and league security officials apparently tried to stop Turner from rejoining his teammates, but he was determined to push through, regardless of what it meant for everyone around him. And, apparently, he had some accomplices willing to bend the rules on his behalf.
“We’re going to get him a picture, then get him off [the field],” one Dodgers official said, according to The Athletic. “We can’t deny him that. The guy is the heart and soul of the organization.”
This is the conflict that’s at the heart of the entire coronavirus response in America. We don’t want to deny ourselves any good times — the parties, the hangouts, the World Series celebrations — even if it means spreading the virus further, even if it just means extending the date when America returns to “normal” far past that of so many other countries that have curbed the virus’ spread.
Sure, anyone with a shred of empathy would feel bad for Turner, having to sit on a folding chair in some sterile Globe Life Stadium back room, watching his teammates celebrate one of their life’s highlights just a few feet away. But how many millions of Americans have missed out on celebrating less-televised — but no less meaningful — moments of their own? Birthdays, graduations, reunions, holidays — all sacrificed in the name of the greater good. I’d love to have a World Series-style dogpile with my extended family on Thanksgiving. But that’s not happening this year, not for me, probably not for you, and not for most Americans.
We’re all looking for pandemic solutions. In the absence of solutions, we’re looking for hope. And in the absence of hope, we’re looking for anyone to tell us relax, this isn’t really all that bad, regardless of whether they have any idea what they’re talking about. Turner and all the other Americans who continue to hang out in crowds, mingle up close in bars, attend crowded rallies and weddings and parties are in effect saying, “See? This is no big deal!”
If only that were the truth.
The World Series is done. The much larger, far more important battle isn’t even close to being over.