ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Two innings after he was rushed out of the game and into isolation because of a positive test for COVID-19, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner returned to the field, joined his teammates and their families in the celebration, and even posed for a team photo sitting between his manager and a front office executive, right beside the World Series trophy.
They weren’t wearing masks.
They were, within minutes of the baseball season ending, violating protocols Major League Baseball relied on for months to play games and crown a champion during a pandemic. Andrew Friedman, LA’s president of baseball operations, first insisted that he had a mask on. During a Zoom press conference late Tuesday night, the Post-Dispatch and other reporters asked about the optics of a wire photo showing Turner between him and manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor. Each of them was smiling and you could tell because not one of them was wearing a mask. That's the final image of the season.
“I totally understand the question,” he said. “If there are people around him without masks, that’s not good optics at all.”
Awaiting the Dodgers when their celebration relocated to the team hotel were rapid tests for the coronavirus, and an uncertain next step.
Friedman suggested the possibility of revealing additional infections. When they’ll be able to travel to Los Angeles or their homes is one of the unknowns that comes from an infected individual being in the dugout, in their clubhouse, and on the field for seven innings of Tuesday’s Game 6 at Globe Life Field. And then, driven by the rush of a championship or the perceived invulnerability of a month in an advertised bubble, back on the field for the post-game revelry.
Friedman’s explanation for allowing Turner to take part in the celebration was the people close to him on the field were already going to be part of his “contact tracing web” of exposure from earlier in the day. It’s not clear if that “web” also included his teammates’ children and other family members on the field, or the commissioner, or media members.
“I think the people who were around him would be in the contact tracing web anyway,” Friedman said. “Which is how close a lot of us have been around each other. The subsequent tests that we’re going to take are really important to figure out what we’re doing to do to make sure that any of us who are potentially positive do not spread it to other people.”
Per MLB past practices, that risk will dictate how long the newly minted champions have to continue testing and how they’ll go about leaving the postseason bubble. But without a season, it’s not clear if protocols will be enforced, or, like Tuesday night, just suggested. It was also not known what Major League Baseball would have done if Tampa Bay rallied to win Game 6 and force a Game 7 against a team with a known positive and imminent testing.
Turner’s only comments came on social media when he tweeted: “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys.”
Mookie Betts expressed support for Turner’s choice to join the on-field celebration.
Friedman said he learned about Turner’s positive test in the seventh inning of LA’s 3-1 victory against Tampa Bay. FOX Sports and others reported that Turner had a test earlier in the day and a subsequent test that afternoon that returned a confirmed positive during the game.
Roberts was notified and pulled Turner from the game after the seventh.
The timing of the revelation was not all that unusual except that it happened on the game’s biggest stage after six weeks without a positive test in the sport. During the season, teams were notified late in the evening of their test results, and that could happen shortly after games ended or during the late innings. In the midst of their outbreak, the Cardinals learned of positive tests late in the evening and began hours of contact tracing. Some of those test results would have come during games had the Cardinals been playing them and not in quarantine.
In comments to the broadcast after Game 6, commissioner Rob Manfred said that Turner had been placed in isolation immediately after the positive test result. Minutes later, millions watching at home saw Turner, his mask on sometimes and sometimes not, mingling with teammates in the dugout and posing with the trophy.
Friedman said that Turner was “having a mask on and staying socially distant,” and then later acknowledged during his late-night Zoom press conference that he had not seen the video or photos where the infielder wasn’t either of those things.
According to the handbook Major League Baseball and its players’ union agreed upon at the start of the 60-game season, players who have received a positive test are supposed to be placed in isolation and have contact only with team medical officials. When the Cardinals and Marlins had their outbreaks during the regular seasons, all players were quarantined for multiple days in hotel rooms because of a handful of positive tests from their teammates. The Cardinals had at least three players placed in isolation for several days because of contact tracing and the possibility they were exposed to the virus.
Austin Gomber spent a weekend away from the team going through constant testing just because he had been nearby an infected teammate on the charter plane.
Gomber never tested positive.
His isolation, per protocols, was multiple days.
Turner returned within hours.
Friedman said he didn’t think “anyone” could “stop him” from being there with his team as it celebrated the first World Series champion in 32 years for the Dodgers. Friedman mentioned Turner is a free agent at season’s end.
“Justin wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy and did,” Friedman said. “From his standpoint, having a chance to take a photo with the trophy was incredibly important and meaningful to him, Friedman said. “And obviously from our standpoint the contact tracing figuring out who has been around him – the test results are all going to be important from this point moving forward.”