David Chao, MD: MLB Needs To Employ ‘The Shift,’ Become Covid Pro-Active

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Two positive tests for the Cardinals is not necessarily a third strike for the MLB.
Hopefully it can call it a check swing and baseball will be allowed another chance.

No matter what happens with St. Louis, the first week of action has shown that he league is chasing positive tests and the virus’ spread as opposed to acting to prevent it. No baseball team meanders around the field while pitches are thrown and then scrambles to catch the ball when it is hit. Every baseball team positions (even shifts) its fielders at the ready for each batter and then is prepared to make a play when the ball is hit. Likewise, MLB and teams can’t sit around wait for there to be a positive test to take action.

Initially the Marlins had 11 players test positive for CoronaVirus, leading the league to suspended play and now has seen that number grow to 18 (60% of the 30 man roster). The Phillies – its opponents on the weekend of discovery — were put on hiatus, and after early negatives a coach and clubhouse staffer tested positive.

Now comes postponement of the Brewers vs Cardinals game with two positive tests on the St. Louis squad.

Should MLB cancel the season? Did it err by not going to a bubble like the NBA? No and no, but it needs to take aggressive action and change what they are doing or the answers will quickly become “yes and yes”.

The goal is to be proactive and not reactive. To date, baseball seems reactive.

Clearly MLB realizes they need change. The investigation of the Marlins is centered on the “team’s in-stadium behavior — mask wearing, social distancing and other protocol-suggested factors — to the off-field activities of players and staff.”  As a result players are required going forward to wear a surgical (not cloth) mask for travel, encouraged to stay in the hotel and a compliance officer will now travel with the team.

These steps are positive but don’t go far enough. Not leaving the hotel but congregating to play video games would still be a high risk activity. All non social distanced activities need to be stopped.

A bubble sounds ideal as the NBA has yet to have a positive test post entrance but at this point is too late. The “eggs in one basket” all or none approach seems to be working so far for basketball but there have been numerous breaches that put the league at risk. If a Marlins type or even Cardinals type outbreak happened for a NBA team, the entire league would be shut down not just a few teams. 

It is not a simple as bubble or not. The key is that MLB teams need to socially distance and be proactive off the field. Call it a mini-bubble if you want but the concepts of transmission and being proactive seem to be lost. Off the field is where baseball has committed an error, not on it.

The Nationals and Blue Jays voted not to play teams with positive players/staff indicates understandable fear but fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of viral load and how the disease is most commonly transmitted. Remember after the weekend debacle where Marlins had three positive players on Saturday (which were removed), they still played the Phillies on Sunday. While the Marlins ended up with 11 positive by the next day, the Phillies to this day have no players with COVID. The two positive tests for Philadelphia were a coach and a home clubhouse staffer. Certainly the coach could have been the first or third base coach but even then there would have been double the prerequisite minimum 6 feet from the Marlins, an outdoor setting and with a mask, risk of spread from the opponent is unlikely.

I am not sure home much home club house staffer intermingle with visiting staffers or players but certainly they should not. Given the increase daily testing of the Phillies, these two positives are just as (or more) likely to be be false positives or acquired away from the ballpark.

The saving grace so far is that it seems Phillies players have been spared despite playing the Marlins. This fits with what we wrote that baseball inherently is a socially distanced game and the danger is really in the dugout, locker room and away from the park.

The new initiatives better be aggressive. One can’t call them a failure yet based on the new Cardinals positives since the were just enacted.

Baseball better position itself to be proactive, this reactive defense won’t work. MLB is working on two strike count now and better be cautious with its next swing.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


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  1. Thank you, Doctor Chao, for this information.
    If I might ask…have players been tested for having covid antibodies? It’s my understanding that players are being tested several times a week. Wouldn’t it be good to know that some/many may already be immune?

    • Another thing that’s been bothersome, Doctor…when the Cards say they just had 2 new positive tests, and the game against the Brewers has to be immediately cancelled…my questions:
      1) are they starting players?
      2) are they in the bullpen?
      3) are they staffers, coaches?
      Teams have a good size roster. Can’t they sub for the player that’s positive? If it’s a backup player or reliever then why would they cancel the game?
      Thank you, Doctor.

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