The Playoff Bubble Failed. So Did Justin Turner.

Originally Posted on the Previous Iteration of Baseball.FYI by Cat Garcia

It’s hard to believe it’s been just over two weeks since the Los Angeles Dodgers brought their first championship to the city in 32 years. What’s even harder to believe is that such a special championship during an unprecedented season could yield headlines that included phrases like “…ruined the Dodgers World Series victory and broke my heart…”.

Nothing could be that serious, right? To mar a World Series victory? Think again.

When Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled in the 6th inning of Game 7 of the World Series with no explanation, worry came over many Dodgers fans. Then, almost immediately after the Dodgers had been crowned 2020 World Series champions, news broke that the reason for Turner’s exit was that he tested positive for COVID-19. 

What happened next was to the disbelief of many, and still is. After being “isolated” in the Dodgers clubhouse, where Turner claims he watched the final few innings of the game and start of the celebration in a doctor’s office with his wife, Turner was seen back on the field posing for photos, sometimes without a mask, amongst throngs of players, staff and family celebrating the Dodgers championship at Globe Life Field, where the “playoff bubble” was hosted.

According to Turner and several Dodgers, they assumed that no one was likely to be infected because they had all been exposed to Turner all day. 

Well, that assumption was wrong. Now, nine members of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and one family member have tested positive for COVID-19, officially turning the playoff bubble’s last stand into a super-spreader event.

How did we get here? How did the grand finale of a nearly perfect postseason end with such a gut-punch?

MLB’s choice to persevere through playing during a global pandemic can now be seen as an allegory for the way the country has chosen to handle the pandemic on a national scale: Without true diligence, with their greatest interests kept in mind, and with little acknowledgment for the immense consequences of what they were dealing with.

The bubble and season protocols were far from perfect, and just as much of the country began to suffer from COVID-fatigue, baseball seemed to follow suit. Instead of focusing on how to keep the bubble under control at length as the NBA did, MLB took the news that not a single player had tested positive for the virus in two months as a sign that complacency was acceptable. 

We’re now finding out the level of that complacency. Tests were coming back in an untimely fashion, players are admitting that the bubble was only partly secure, and ultimately something sure to be doomed from the start — that fans from the outside were permitted into the bubble to watch games at a ballpark that had the roof closed for much of the series — including Game 7. So much for the outdoors being the safest place to host group events.

It’s easy to point fingers at the larger devil at work here — that MLB and Commissioner Manfred’s proclivities to point the finger at anyone but themselves has been the way this administration has operated through several blunders. That becomes more apparent every year we trudge through Manfred’s leadership.

But no matter how poorly the bubble went, how unfit you feel Manfred is to lead MLB, how much you empathize with this moment being stolen from Turner — unfortunately the situation is what it is and at the end of the day, Turner took his decision into his own hands and cavalierly returned to a field packed with elders, children, and high-risk individuals while carry a virus that has taken the lives of nearly a quarter-million Americans in less than a year.

Turner may not have been stopped from leaving isolation, rumors may have been spread that others on the field had also tested positive leaving Turner to feel singled out, personnel may given him the impression it was safe to return to the field by acting out of omission, but ultimately he made a choice of his own volition to walk onto the field again, ignoring anything that he has learned about this virus over the last 9 months. 

And then he stayed. He mingled. He took his mask off for photos. He sat next to cancer- survivor Dave Roberts, and even though Roberts said he asked Turner to sit next to him — Turner’s better judgment should have stepped in. Every second he spent on that field was a choice — an ugly one.

Regardless of how infuriating it is that a player in a bubble could contract COVID-19 in the very bubble that was made to prevent it or how clouded Turner’s judgment may have been in that moment, he chose to act shortsightedly and in his own interest. Others including several teammates played the role of his accomplices, showing a shocking disregard for the science that has been placed before us and a lack of respect for those around Turner including themselves and their families.

But in the end, Turner chose to act recklessly and defiantly. Would the Dodgers personnel that didn’t attempt to stop Turner from returning to the field have even been successful in their attempt? Reports stated that when Turner was approached to leave the field by security, he emphatically refused. That’s another choice he made.

Turner and his teammates jumped to the defense that everyone had already been exposed to him in close quarters all night and therefore there was less risk. That’s simply not true. Not everyone who was on the field celebrating had been in contact with Turner that day, perhaps only his teammates and several people who had been inside the Dodgers clubhouse.

Exposure doesn’t make you immune to catching this virus, if that were the case, people who had the virus would be free to roam their homes with the people that they live with. Instead, millions of Americans have been isolated in separate rooms of their homes or elsewhere, having meals left outside their door and not seeing their families for days if not weeks on end. Saying that you stood on the same dirt as another player and therefore they won’t catch your deadly contagion if you return to hug them and take photos is almost insultingly shortsighted. 

There are no exemptions here. Everyone from staff in the White House to staff at your local cafe has been blindsided by this virus the same way. Baseball players in a bubble that clearly was not secure are no different, whether they’ve just won their first career championship or not. The virus doesn’t care about the World Series or a missed moment. The whole world has missed something important because of COVID-19, and in some cases, things far more important than a sports championship moment. 

It’s hard to believe that Turner was one of the players so actively involved in creating safety protocols for the season and was lauded as an example of how to follow them properly — only to be the one to completely unravel nearly any faith that was placed in his true integrity when it mattered most.

Baseball players must remember, they set an example on a national stage. If fans, children, people on the cusp about what to believe or not, see their favorite baseball player displaying COVID-fatigue, not isolating once infected and then not wear a mask — the crowning disappointment of them all — why should they think they have to? 

And if not that extreme, these small acts of ignorance leave an impression, aid in compounding the persuasion that “maybe it just isn’t that bad” and that you only need to diligently adhere to virus protocols if they don’t interfere with your plans.  

Perhaps the ultimate failure of the plan and the reality of how poorly MLB handled the bubble, angering Turner as he became the ultimate victim of its failure, stealing a precious moment from him. But that doesn’t mean he gets a pass on the hand that was dealt to him.

There are so many people to point fingers at, to be upset with, to feel for. But no matter the consequences, the noble thing for Turner to have done that night would have been to endure the pain, confusion, and anger of that moment and to not waver in it, but stand even stronger in it, in order to set an example that is so desperately needed right now.