Poor choices and postponements: An MLB postseason bubble is looking inevitable

They’re contemplating October baseball in a bubble. The word they use is “contingency,” so nothing is for sure, because nothing is for sure anymore. Everything after breakfast is a crapshoot. They’d shrink the game from 30 mobile bubble-ish habitats to one or two or three, a plan they hope would safeguard first the playoff money and then the poor souls generating the playoff money.

This is a fine idea, given people have a practice of acting quite like people, which is sometimes really great and other times they can’t help but sneak off to The Lodge or some such sudsy Eden. They’ll call it a “transition” into the bubble(s). Because men are men and young men are bulletproof and beer is beer, it will look like a transition in the way a wedding-day bride transitions from the car to the church door in a rainstorm.

So, Rob Manfred gripping the inside-out umbrella, Tony Clark chasing the gown train, bride skating, makeup running, bouquet slumping and then the pictures come and everyone laughs and asks why they didn’t park closer to the door to begin with.

When they open up that bubble, there’s a good chance the game will fall over the threshold, from exhaustion.

Just Tuesday, three weeks into The 2020 Season: Fury Road, the Cleveland Indians put two starting pitchers — Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger — on their restricted list. While in Chicago last weekend, they’d allegedly gone over the wall for a Saturday night leg stretch and currently are isolated. Their next COVID-19 test is scheduled for Wednesday. Plesac apologized, was put in a car and sent home from Chicago, while Clevinger reportedly took the team charter before the team was onto him.

So when manager Terry Francona said of the two, “I think they’re probably in different stages of understanding. … They’re probably in different stages [of] acceptance,” you can probably guess who’s who. (By Tuesday evening, Clevinger had released a statement in which he said he was remorseful.)

Plesac and Clevinger, grown men, educated, aware of the world and significant figures in the micro-culture that is a baseball team, which means they care for the others, made their choices, which neither president Chris Antonetti nor Francona detailed during a call Tuesday.

The players presumably measured their actions against risks that include teammates, coaches and a manager who are vulnerable to a very mean and pertinacious virus. They presumably were aware the Miami Marlins had nearly lost their season to a few among them who made their choices, too. And that the St. Louis Cardinals, whether by untidy behavior or bad luck, haven’t played a baseball game in August. The Toronto Blue Jays were a true home team Tuesday night for the first time — in Buffalo. The Pittsburgh Pirates had no one to play against Tuesday night. Two teams were rolling around in the dirt in Oakland on Sunday afternoon. League discipline came Tuesday, but the consequences won’t be known for two or three testing cycles, at best.

Cleveland Indians' pitcher Mike Clevinger watches the flight of a home run ball off the bat of Minnesota Twins' Eddie Rosario in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Cleveland Indians' pitcher Mike Clevinger watches the flight of a home run ball off the bat of Minnesota Twins' Eddie Rosario in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Also, in their own dugout, two Cleveland coaches have opted out of the season and Francona missed eight games because of health issues that are not resolved. He has undergone several procedures related to a gastrointestinal issue since the spring and said Tuesday, “I can’t promise this is going to go perfect but I’m certainly going to give it the best shot I can.” He praised his doctors and added, “As long as they keep trying I’ll keep trying” to solve it.

And if you for a second think that every person on every roster has otherwise adhered to the operations manual, that the only errors in judgment have led to postponements and apologies and promises to be better, then you’ve not heard about the young men are bulletproof and beer is beer thing, which is weird because it may as well be our new national motto.

“I still think as a group our guys have done an extremely good job and they’ve been very conscientious,” Francona said. “This one kinda hurts. And we talked about it a little bit as a team even today, and we’ll deal with it like we always do. We care about each other. Doesn’t mean you don’t get disappointed with each other or even mad at each other sometimes. But what I care about is making it better. Not being vindictive. Just trying to figure out, OK, how do we make this better so it doesn’t happen again. And the players will have a lot to say about this. Taking ownership of what we’re doing is really important.”

Which is to say it certainly sounds like Plesac and Clevinger messed up and also that they are not alone and the best anyone can hope for is a knuckleheaded move that is disappointing and avoidable and not tragic.

It’s bad enough out there without feathering in the self-inflicted stuff. It’s bad enough if the only thing they are risking is a dumb old baseball season.

Three weeks in, the season is most notable for the Cardinals having played five games. That and how much underwear the Blue Jays have had to turn inside out and rewear.

In October, which will start with 16 teams, there can be no pauses, no significant postponements, no substantial outbreaks. The hockey and basketball bubbles are working. While a regular season baseball bubble was both unwieldy and unpopular, a month-long postseason limited to Southern California or Chicago or, perhaps, New York would soften the risks. No plane flights. Tighter protocols. Fewer variables.

MLB is working on the sketches. Folks there call them contingency plans, because you never know, but they kind of know. Those who would have to endure October — general managers, for one — believe a bubble is inevitable and the only chance to put a champion at the end of 2020. They haven’t seen the last poor choice. They haven’t seen the last bit of bad luck. That’s what the real world looks like. So they’ll have to try to build their own.

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