It’s baseball meets the Wuhan virus in today’s ethics showdown. Not surprisingly, since baseball players have the approximate ethics acumen of a typical member of Congress, the virus wins.
Essential background: Major League Baseball is desperately trying to complete some semblance of a season, with the key word being “semblance.” There are no fans in the stands; double headers games are only seven innings, and teams have NFL-style “taxi squads” instsead on minor league teams. Baseball has also installed strict protocols involving masks, social distancing, and players avoiding physical contact. One team, the Florida Marlins, has already had a virus breakout that took almost half the active roster out of circulation. This resulted in lots of canceled games and the reworking of other teams’ schedules. (Ironically, the Marlins taxi squad players have done almost nothing but win since they took over. That’s baseball, Ray!). Now a second team, the S, Louis Cardinals, has had multiple players test positive because a player came in contact with an infected non-team member, than joined the other Cardinals on a plane. St. Louis has missed two weeks of games. MLB knows that much more of this will make continuing the season, weird as it may be, impossible. Teams have been warned of dire consequences if they don’t keep their players—you, know, millionaire morons with the emotional maturity of Adam Sandler—in line.
Now, the rest of the story.
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Zach Plesac was sent home by the team for breaking pandemic protocols while the team was traveling. Plesac left the team hotel—that’s forbidden— to go out with friends in Chicago following his start against the White Sox last weekend.
The 25-year-old pitcher issued an apology, written by his agent in all likelihood:
“I would like to apologize to my teammates, the entire Cleveland organization and all of our fans for my actions Saturday eveningI realize I made a poor choice to leave the hotel, which broke protocols and could have endangered other people. I understand that in these times of uncertainty, I need to be more vigilant and responsible and I am determined to earn my teammates’ forgiveness and get back to work.”
That’s a bit understated, Zack, You endangered the entire baseball season, the income of every player, and the game itself.
Mike Clevinger, another Indians starting pitcher, defended Plesac at a team meeting about the situation before the Indians sent Plesac home. Then Clevinger remained with the team during a rain-delayed game in Chicago, and traveled back to Cleveland on the team flight. No wonder he defended Plesac: the Indians discovered he was with his fellow starting pitcher on Saturday night, yet he did not reveal this to anyone, even after Plesac was sent into quarantine wearing the metaphorical Shroud of Shame.
Now Clevinger has also been quarantined, and won’t be back on the mound for at least two weeks. He essentially duplicated the actions of the Cardinals player who set off a chain of positive tests on that team. The Indians will be nervously watching the results of testing over the next two weeks, and so will all of baseball.
The team was warned about Clevenger’s skewed sense of responsibility on July 30, when he was asked during his team’s first road trip about whether Indians players would be policing each other when it comes to sticking to the pandemic protocols. Clevinger indicated he would not “run to Daddy” if a teammate violated the safety rules, and that players would handle the situation themselves.
“This is a player discipline thing,” Clevinger said then. “Keep the coaches and front office kind of out of it. It puts a little extra accountability, kind of. Just having that trust in your teammates is a big thing, I think. If you feel your teammate doesn’t trust you off the field, how are you going to feel like he trusts you when you get between the lines?”
Do you think your team mates trusted you not to expose them to the virus, Mike?
The Indians should punish Clevenger more severely than Plesac. He not only violated protocols, he lied about it. He also is ethically clueless. Every player should understand that they have no choice but to report to the team when other players have placed the health of the players and the viability of the season at risk. This isn’t like refusing to rat out your room mate for breaking curfew. Lives and careers are at stake.
Clevenger has shown he can’t be trusted, and the Indians can only send the right message if they suspend him for the rest of the season. If the team doesn’t, Major League Baseball should.
The disgusting part is that if Clevenger wasn’t a major star, they might. In baseball, as in other professional sports, The King’s Pass rules.