It’s safe to say that the world is upside down right now. With the presidential election becoming messier with each passing day, Americans can’t help but feel on edge. For baseball fans, the truncated season came to an end just over a week ago, with the Los Angeles Dodgers finally capturing their long-awaited and well-deserved World Series title. However, the season’s conclusion did not immediately lead to an end of worries. A whole new set of problems crept up after it was revealed that Justin Turner had tested positive for COVID-19.
Justin Turner has been a mainstay in the heart of the Dodgers batting order for years, and the third baseman has served as an anchor both on and off the field for Dave Roberts’ squad. A clubhouse leader, Turner was instrumental in the team’s remarkable feat of navigating the entire 2020 season without a single player testing positive for COVID-19. Ironically, it was Justin Turner himself who was pulled in the eighth inning of game six of the World Series due to his testing positive for the virus.
Why Turner was allowed to play in the first place without the benefit of a negative test is something Major League Baseball needs to answer for, but the point remains that the powers that be were acting upon the information they were given with an abundance of caution. Where things really get sticky is after the Dodgers won the game, as pandemonium erupted, with players, staff, family members and reporters streaming onto the field to celebrate the achievement. Embedded in this milieu was Justin Turner, who was laughing, smiling and hugging coaches and teammates just like everyone else.
Public perception predictably turned sharply against both Turner and Major League Baseball, as fans witnessed a man who had been yanked off the field less than an hour before, return and possibly spread the virus. However, this is a bit more complicated than Justin Turner simply not caring if others got sick, or MLB dropping the ball on safety.
First, Turner wasn’t an outsider who had been quarantined from everyone in attendance until he rushed the field. In fact it was quite the opposite, as he had been in close quarters with a great deal of those involved with both teams. While this does not mean that it was a futile effort to remove him from the field of play, it does lend credence to the belief that the damage may have already been done. Additionally, Turner’s own teammates encouraged him to join them, as they believed that the risk was no greater if he returned to celebrate than it had been before his positive test was revealed. In fairness, the Dodgers players were not the only individuals in the vicinity, and the stadium and MLB employees were likely not consulted before Turner reappeared. It is quite evident that both sides of this quarrel have good reason to feel the way that they do.
The ethics of Justin Turner’s actions are justifiably in question, but what is clear is that had MLB issued a severe punishment, they would have been hypocrites of the highest order. Not long ago, baseball’s 60 game sprint got out to an inauspicious start, as both the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals suffered from waves of COVID-19 spreading through their respective clubhouses. While MLB acted swiftly and measuredly in postponing a slew of Cardinals games, they lacked the proper response to the Marlins problem.
After concluding a series with the Phillies, it was revealed that a multitude of Marlins players had tested positive for the virus. As more details emerged, it became public knowledge that the Marlins players and staff were aware of positive tests, but decided to proceed anyway, playing that day’s scheduled game. This was clearly reckless and irresponsible, as not only were they putting another organization at risk, but they were also jeopardizing the league’s entire season.
In spite of this, the Marlins received no formal punishment, and after they were cleared to participate in baseball activities once more, returned to the field of play like nothing had happened. Commissioner Rob Manfred likely decided that the Marlins had suffered enough not only in contracting the virus themselves, but in having so many contests postponed and made up in the form of grueling doubleheaders. The merits of this approach are a debate for a different time, but the outcome of the problem is very much relevant to Justin Turner’s situation.
With any luck, no one who interacted with Turner will come down with COVID-19, and this whole situation will prove to be a fortunate near miss. However, with Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred’s recent history of poor judgment when it comes to disciplinary measures, it is refreshing to see that Justin Turner is treated not as a scapegoat for a larger issue, but as a human being who simply exercised questionable judgment.