In the end, the 2020 MLB season ended just how it began: With a coronavirus controversy.
Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals' recently-turned 22-year-old star, didn't play on Opening Day or the team's first eight games due to a positive COVID-19 test. Justin Turner, the backbone to the Los Angeles Dodgers, was taken out in the eighth inning Tuesday night in Game 6 of the World Series after testing positive for the coronavirus. And then baseball's leadership, or lack thereof, took center stage once again.
This was supposed to be about the Dodgers finally getting the monkeys in a trash can off their back. It was supposed to be about Clayton Kershaw becoming a champion, the brilliance of the Mookie Betts trade and Giants fans making three-in-five jokes on Twitter. But this is 2020, where treating a pandemic like an "I don't feel like it" moment always steals the spotlight, and somehow always becomes the answer.
The lasting image of the World Series isn't celebration, it's Turner returning to the field with and without a mask to join his teammates and others on the field. It's Turner sitting right next to his manager, Dave Roberts, without a mask and the Commissioner's Trophy sitting right to his left, in between he and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
MLB had gone nearly two months without a positive COVID-19 test. They were oh so close to ending this dangerously odd season on a high note, hoping fans would remember adulation instead of all that had gone wrong. Then, the appearance of Turner back on the field reminded us all about our country's divided views of a deadly virus.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Tuesday night that the league learned in the second inning the result of Turner’s test from Monday came back inconclusive. The league then asked its lab in Utah to expedite his test from earlier Tuesday, and when it came back positive, Turner was removed from the game. The real question is, why wasn't Turner taken out in the second inning? And why was he allowed back on the field after the game?
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League officials, security personnel and Dodgers officials spoke to Turner and asked him to remain in isolation, sources told Rosenthal. The veteran third baseman was adamant about wanting to return to the field and celebrate with his wife and teammates. Can you blame him? No. Therein lies the problem with our country to its core. We're selfish people, no matter how much we want to think otherwise.
Turner isn't a bad person for wanting to revel in joy. His teammates aren't bad people for begging for him to be back on the field. I've been a part of dogpiles, I've helped carry the bucket of Gatorade to heave on our manager. Just as Turner did, I too grew up dreaming of winning a World Series.
Turner's the longest-tenured Dodgers position player on this championship team. He reinvented himself from someone who could barely crack a major league roster to an All-Star in Los Angeles. Kershaw and Betts gave glowing reviews of Turner after the game, pointing out what a great teammate he is. In this moment, however, he became the exact opposite with a reckless take on reality.
What this goes back to is baseball's "make it up as we go approach" to this entire season. It's letting Miami Marlins players decide through a group text that they would play a game the same day their scheduled starting pitcher and two others tested positive for the virus. It's letting the A's and Seattle Mariners play a double-header through unhealthy smoke from fires as it felt like Ramon Laureano running around center field with a N95 mask was cast in the latest Stephen King adaptation. It's looking at seven-inning double-headers as a good idea for the future instead of remembering they happened due to previous positive tests in the first place. It's creating a bubble in the playoffs to be safe during a pandemic, then letting fans into games for the final two rounds.
To no surprise, MLB released a statement regarding the situation on Wednesday and pinned it all on Turner.
From the top of the country to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the trickle-down effect of gross individualism over leadership has been seen right in front of our face, or hospital beds throughout the country. It's easy to blame Turner, it's easy to blame his teammates and others throughout the Dodgers organization. Leadership starts at the top and is followed down to the bottom, though.
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, 48, is a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor. He sought Turner out once his 35-year-old third baseman returned to the field. Roberts loves Turner, a 12-year veteran who supported hard-hit local LA restaurants and served countless meals to those in need, along with doctors and nurses at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. That's part of the beauty of sports and the downfall of where we stand right now in this pandemic. Closer Kenley Jansen had a three-week battle with the virus in July and has a heart condition. We also know at least one wife of a Dodgers player is pregnant.
There's the real chance that nothing comes from Turner's dangerous postgame decision. He could recover quickly without much difficulty. Perhaps all of the Dodgers' bubble avoids infection and carries on with their lives. We won't know until proper contact tracing occurs.
What we do know is leadership took another L this year.