Since Major League Baseball began its abbreviated season July 23, it has run into a multitude of problems related to the coronavirus. Numerous teams reported delays in receiving test results early in summer camp, and two clubs — the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals — have had to shut down for at least a week each due to outbreaks of the virus in those clubhouses.
Yet MLB is forging on, and despite questions surrounding the viability of the league’s virus plans, commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN Aug. 5 he believes the protocols are working despite those two outbreaks. For longtime Baltimore Orioles trainer Richie Bancells, MLB’s protocols are rather solid, and he said he believes it will be possible to finish the season if players continue to abide by those regulations.
“The biggest thing is following what the health professionals are telling us,” Bancells said on Glenn Clark Radio July 28. “It’s kind of easy to throw your hands up in the air in light of what happened [with the Marlins] … but you have to stay to the task and keep doing what the protocols ask for.”
That initially might have been difficult for baseball players, whose daily habits have been upended. Players are tested for the virus every other day and must maintain at least 6 feet of distance in the dugout and clubhouse if possible. Since the start of summer camp, mask-wearing has been encouraged, while anything communal — ranging from sharing training equipment to water coolers to even celebrations such as high fives — has been discouraged.
Despite the adjustment period needed for these changes, Bancells said he believes players are now accustomed to the new routine. He added that the Orioles players he’s spoken with indicated that mostly everyone understands the seriousness of the pandemic that necessitated such changes.
“I know from seeing players’ reactions down there and still talking to some of them, they know this is for real, they know they really have to be careful here,” Bancells said. “Now you’re always going to have the outliers that are going to do what they do … but I think that’s proving to not be true [for most players].”
Bancells retired following the 2017 season after spending 33 years with the major-league club. He is widely credited with helping Cal Ripken Jr. reach his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, and Bancells was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2011.
He said he feels optimistic about finishing out the season, provided protocols hold and medical professionals are consulted. That latter point was a source of contention with the Marlins outbreak, as the team’s July 26 game against the Philadelphia Phillies went on despite multiple positive tests.
“It’s paramount that the medical people are involved,” Bancells said. “And not being privy to what happened in that situation with the Marlins clubhouse, they may have had medical information, and as far as the players making the decision, we don’t know that they made the actual decision. They may have been asked what they think after medical professionals gave them the information that was available at the time.”
That incident put MLB on notice, and the league is now reportedly tightening up. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond, MLB and the players’ union agreed to expanded protocols Aug. 5, which includes stricter regulation of mask wearing and distancing, smaller traveling parties and a potential season ban if players violate these rules.
In addition to those restrictions, Bancells said he hopes the Marlins and Cardinals’ outbreaks serve as a wake-up call to the few players who may not have previously understood the situation’s gravity. He added that if he was still with the Orioles, he would relay a simple message to his players about staying healthy.
“There are some very simple precautions that we all know about — hand washing, wearing a mask, social distancing,” Bancells said. “If you want to stay on the field and play, simply follow these steps and you increase your chances of being able to continue to play.”
For more from Bancells, listen to the full interview here:
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