Cubs manager David Ross said Monday that a championship this year would mean as much as any other year.
“If they’re passing out a trophy, I want it,” he said.
And he will have earned it. And then some. In fact, if Major League Baseball is passing out trophies at the end of October, Ross should certainly get one – along with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Paul Goldschmidt, Tim Anderson, Max Scherzer, Tommy La Stella and everybody else in baseball.
Because if baseball pulls off this micro-season of 60 games and a month of playoffs, it will take every star, bench player and assistant trainer of every team – every bit of 3 1/2 months of the best behavior of every team’s weakest link in its self-discipline chain – to produce the viable, sustained season that will produce a 2020 trophy.
Doom and gloom? Or aspirations worthy of ants and rubber trees?
Either way, it’s all but impossible to ignore how sharply the challenges have increased just in the last week or two as COVID-19 has raged in record numbers of new cases across Florida, Texas and Arizona – home to five of MLB’s 30 teams and a disproportionate number of players from all over the league.
And why completing the season would be such an accomplishment.
At least four players on Monday reportedly opted out of playing at all, many over COVID-19-related concerns, but at least one – two-time All-Star Ian Desmond of the Rockies – for an overlay of heartfelt, heartbreaking reasons that include not only the pandemic but also emotions related to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and the systemic racism in baseball from its league hierarchy down through its clubhouses.
As players travel this week from – and in many cases to – some of the hottest hot spots for COVID-19 in the country, it is increasingly clear that the health challenges alone make pandemic baseball look more daunting than the NBA’s bubble-wrapped playoffs.
“Certainly as this plan has been moving forward, obviously you watch the news and read and you see that cases are spiking up in some of the states that we have a lot of baseball teams and a lot of players reside there,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “And that’s something that we had concerns about.”
Intake testing across the league has barely started, and the Phillies already began with at least 12 reported coronavirus cases among its players and staff two weeks ago; a handful of other MLB players since then, including Rockies star Charlie Blackmon, were reportedly infected; and on Monday the Cubs reported that two “Tier 1” staffers (those allowed closest contact with players) won’t start with the team on time this week because of recent positive tests.
“We’re hopeful that all the protocols can keep guys safe once they’re here. Some will come down to testing and strict protocols, and then some of it’s going to come down to behavior,” Hoyer said.
“There’s going to be positive tests. There’s no way around that. We have too many players in the league. … But we have to do everything we possibly can to avoid the kind of outbreaks that have happened in certain states right now.”
Players and big-league staff appear to be going in with eyes wide open to the risks, and unlike, say, college football players they have a strong union representing their interests and the freedom to opt out, with support of peers and, said Hoyer, teams.
Ross and Hoyer emphasized plans for constant messaging about the new and uncomfortable safety protocols players must adhere to for best results – from mask requirements and distancing to bans on spitting and high-fives.
“Trust” when it comes to guidelines for best practices away from the field – in both encouraged and required form – is crucial to preventing one player or staffer on one team from potentially igniting an outbreak that debilitates the league.
“I’m trying to approach this whole situation as optimistically as I possibly can,” Hoyer said when asked about doubts that a season can actually be completed. “I think there’s going to be challenges ahead of us. I don’t think there’s any question about that. You’d be naive to think there won’t be moments of difficulty.
“But at the same time when you read through the manual and you realize how many scientists and doctors have weighed in and how thorough they’re trying to be with the testing protocols, I think we’re going to have baseball on the field really soon, and I think we should all be excited about that. And I certainly hope nothing derails it.”
Ross is certainly right about one thing: A championship this season will be as meaningful as in any other year, for all of those challenges.
Under the circumstances, it might prove the greatest group achievement in baseball history by the time a World Series were to be played.
And that’s why everyone in the game should get a trophy if they pull this off. Call it a participation trophy if you want – but call it as deserved and earned as any trophy ever awarded by a baseball commissioner.
And even this commissioner can call it what he wants – as long as this time he at least calls it a piece of mettle.
Cubs, David Ross and everyone in MLB should get trophy if they pull this off originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago