MLB safety’s plan for 2021 has a major minor hole in it


We don’t know how Alternate Training Sites are supposed to work, and Rob Manfred doesn’t either.Image: APFor all the trouble that the NBA and NHL are having with their current seasons, it’s all the more remarkable what Major League Baseball was able to achieve outside of a bubble last year.While baseball was rightly hammered at the start of its shortened season, as coronavirus outbreaks ravaged the Marlins and Cardinals, among others, MLB and the players’ union made adjustments, and went 59 days without a single positive test… right up until Justin Turner’s idiotic misadventure at the World Series cast everything in a bad light all over again.So, it makes sense that the health and safety protocols for the upcoming season, announced on Tuesday, are for the most part running it back on what MLB and the MLBPA agreed to in 2020.The problem is that, even as successful as last year’s model was, Turner still did get COVID, and had the Dodgers not won Game 6 of the World Series to wrap up the title, the league would have had a nightmare on its hands about what to do with Game 7. One of the tricky things with the virus is that you can follow protocols to lower risk factors, but the only way to ensure no one gets sick is to keep everyone at home and not do things like, say, have a baseball season.This baseball season has two key differences from the last one. First, MLB is no longer going with a geographic-based schedule, which means more travel — and transcontinental travel — for everyone. Also, the plan is for minor league baseball to be back, although its schedule remains to be determined.G/O Media may get a commissionLast year, the lack of a minor league season made it easy for MLB teams to get reinforcements in the event of injuries or coronavirus. All they had to do was call down to the Alternate Training Site, and someone fresh could come right up, having already been participating in the safety protocols.The Alternate Training Site remains part of the framework of the 2021 protocol, with the plan being that players from the ATS will be used to fill out the Taxi Squad when teams go on the road. Teams are responsible for ensuring safe travel for players between the ATS and where they meet their teams, but this is where the non-geographic schedule comes into play.The rule on the ATS is that it must be “located sufficiently close to the location where the club will play its home games during the championship season that commercial air travel is not required.” So, while the Yankees could keep their ATS last year in Scranton, where they have their Triple-A team a two-hour drive from the Bronx, the White Sox, whose top affiliate is in Charlotte, needed to use the facility of an independent league team in Schaumburg, Ill.Further complicating things is that there is no minor league schedule yet, minor league spring training won’t start until the major league season is underway because its trying to keep the spring training facilities uncrowded, and the Alternate Sites from last year were a mix of minor league stadiums, independent league facilities, and colleges. MLB plans to continue with the ATS program because there’s no guarantee that the minor league season will go smoothly, but MLB could not provide clarity on how Triple-A and an ATS program could exist simultaneously, other than that the plan is to have both.There’s still time to figure out the logistics of it all, especially since it’s unlikely that minor league baseball will be played — or, in the MLB legalese, it probably won’t be until well into April, if not May, that “the commissioner commences the Class AAA championship season,” in which case “Clubs may be required to change the location of their Alternate Training Sites.” And exactly who’s playing daily competitive Triple-A baseball and who’s grinding out intrasquad workouts at an ATS is going to be a tricky needle to thread.These are the questions that MLB needs to figure out the answers to, though, because just having had 59 straight days last summer without a positive test doesn’t mean that the whole operation is foolproof. Turner was the fool who proved that, and in the days following the World Series, other Dodgers got coronavirus, too.The weak points of MLB’s plan for 2021 are one that existed last year — the possibility of members of someone’s household bringing in the virus — and this new one, coronavirus getting into baseball through the minor leagues, along with the extra air travel that will be a necessary part of playing out the new year’s schedule.MLB has a shot to pull it off again, but the best shot remains the COVID-19 vaccine, and the sooner everyone gets that, the better off we’ll all be. .

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The NHL got its divisions right, which hasn’t saved it from being a farce


The NHL has a COVID-19 problem.Image: Getty ImagesThe NHL decided this season had to be quartered off in order to keep the players safe as could be, and more importantly their TV money as safe as it could be. What it didn’t realize is how thoroughly it would illustrate how this country compares to others when it comes to dealing with the COVID pandemic.Because Canada wouldn’t acquiesce to teams criss-crossing the border and back without following that country’s quarantine rules, the league has an all-Canadian division this season. And isn’t it strange how that’s the only one where every team has played its full schedule? Curious, no?The Colorado Avalanche became the fifth team currently to be put on pause yesterday, joining Buffalo, New Jersey, Vegas, and Minnesota. They’re the seventh team to have to sit out for a while thanks to COVID protocols, as Carolina and Dallas had to take a seat earlier in the year. The Avs spent the past week playing the WIld. The Wild just had five players go on the protocol list, and now the Avs have the same problems. This is exactly what happened with the Sabres and Devils. The NHL can claim it doesn’t have a team-to-team transmission problem all it likes. But the more it does, the more it sounds like Baghdad Bob. Which begs the question: How the NHL can keep going? Five teams is more than 20 percent of its American contingent. How many more will it take? The virus is clearly jumping from team to team. There may be just something about hockey that is causing it when none of the other sports had this problem to this extent. Or they were just better about keeping it quiet.And if it’s not, it’s at least forcing teams that run across opponents with positive tests to have to stop for a week. This is far worse than anything MLB or the NFL dealt with, and yet you haven’t heard a peep from the NHL offices about calling a halt to everything. G/O Media may get a commissionMeanwhile, in Canada, where governments and citizens have taken the virus more seriously and acted like adults, there has been no such problem. Hockey is full of Canadians acting smug about something or other, but this time they’re completely justified. But no. The league, like those before it, will continue to try and play whack-a-mole and hope that isolating that team or this team or those teams for a week will get a hold on all of it. And they’ll have no plan other than protocol theater, and pray that the more contagious strands of the virus don’t make their way to one team, from which it would assuredly leap to another and maybe another. There is no plan other than getting to the end of the season and talking about what a great job your protocols did, because stopping was never a consideration. Seen it before. Anyway, to things on the field or court of play. There was a tasty looking matchup in downtown LA last night, where the people’s favorite Nuggets were taking on the defending champ Lakers. And for a half, the Nuggets looked like real-ass contenders, with a 12-point lead at half.Then the Lakers decided to try. LA outscored Denver by 33 in the second half, holding the Nuggets to just 35 points in the 3rd and 4th for a 114-93 win. The Nugs were smothered into 15-for-44 shooting in the second half. Nikola Jokic was -17 in the second half. Jamal Murray was -27. They shot three free throws. Meanwhile LeBron sauntered to a triple-double, with eight assists in the half that saw the Nuggets brain jerked out through their nose. …And Ren said it with authority…Anyway, before hockey goes away, or should, we can still enjoy Auston Matthews finding the nitrous switch and making J.T. Miller question most of his decisions in life: .

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