This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate, with the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. alone above 46,000, and the worldwide total approaching 400,000. For the first time, the single-day death toll in the U.S. topped 100 on Monday, pushing the country’s tally past 500, and already as of Tuesday morning, it’s closing in on 600. Even so, President Trump and his administration spent its time on Monday downplaying the pandemic’s deadliness, expressing impatience with the advice of health experts, including those of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and musing about lifting the guidelines for Americans to stay at home and reopening the country in order to stimulate the economy — advice that could further overwhelm hospitals, expand the outbreak, and have deadly consequences for millions.
The news around the country is grim at just about every turn. For glints of optimism, one must look to Italy, where the count of new cases and the daily death toll have both decreased for three straight days — thanks to lockdowns that are much more strict than the patchwork of orders in place across the U.S. That said, the grim tallies in Italy, a country of over 60 million that has reported nearly 64,000 confirmed cases (but perhaps 10 times as many cases overall, with the balance going uncounted due to asymptomatic cases and a shortage of tests) and over 6,000 deaths, are still sobering.
On the baseball front, the quiet from the weekend that Tony Wolfe covered in Monday’s installment has continued, at least as far as MLB is concerned. But roughly 7,000 miles away from New York City, it was another story on Monday night…
Live Baseball in Korea
As was the case with the U.S. and MLB, the novel coronavirus pandemic in South Korea forced the Korea Baseball Organization to postpone its Opening Day, which was scheduled for March 28, that after canceling all of its preseason games. Thanks to the country’s success in flattening the curve through quick intervention, widespread testing, contact tracing, isolation, and surveillance — the last at a level that certainly would not be deemed acceptable in the U.S., to say nothing of the feasibility of the other measures — just 64 new cases were reported on Sunday.
While the country’s success at halting the spread of the virus is still tentative, a flicker of baseball — and therefore hope — has returned. On Tuesday morning in Busan, South Korea, the Lotte Giants (who employ former FanGraphs contributors Sung Min Kim and Josh Herzenberg) broadcast an intrasquad scrimmage on YouTube. Mundane though it was, and unintelligible to those who don’t speak Korean, it was nonetheless a sight for sore eyes and music to the ears as the reassuring sounds of balls popping into gloves and thwacking off bats resonated throughout the otherwise empty ballpark:
The action begins around the 12:30 mark, with Dan Straily (white jersey no. 58) and Adrian Sampson (blue jersey no. 24) — both of whom spent time in the majors in 2019 — squaring off for their respective squads. Neither hurler was seen wearing a mask, but several other players wore them to the plate or in the field, a surreal addition to the familiar scene.
Have it on, not even watching the game, it's just those sounds of baseball in the background that are making my night
— Uncle Velvel (@BoltingVulture) March 24, 2020
If you missed it, more such broadcasts are coming:
Get your calendars out – we, the Lotte Giants, will be broadcasting our team scrimmages on our YouTube channel (Giants TV) on 10:40 pm EST on the 23rd, 25th, and 27th, and a match between our first tram and second team on 10:00 pm EST on the 29th. pic.twitter.com/t311G6mP2B
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) March 23, 2020
Per the YonHap News Agency, the Giants returned from their spring training site in Australia last Tuesday and resumed practice on Saturday. They had to cancel their training session on Monday as one player exhibited a fever and was sent home to self-isolate. Thankfully, he tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, which allowed practice to resume on Tuesday. The league is hoping to start its season by mid-April; towards that hope, perhaps the writers for this site should start working on their KBO Positional Power Rankings assignments.
While MLB and the players’ union go back and forth regarding service time issues — a topic that Craig Edwards delved into today — minor leaguers’ lack of representation amid this crisis has been glaringly apparent. On Friday, a nonprofit advocacy group called Advocates for Minor Leaguers announced its formation, with the goal of providing “a collective voice for minor leaguers, to advocate on their behalf, and to educate the public about the struggles that the players face.”
The group is headed by minor league pitcher-turned-lawyer Garrett Broshuis, and among its co-founders are former major leaguer Ty Kelly; former minor leaguers Matt Paré and Raul Jacobson; longtime labor activist Bill Fletcher; and Lisa Raphael, founder of he creative agency Relatable Content and Emmy-winning producer of a documentary about minor league life called Brooklyn Cyclones: Baseball on the Boardwalk; and “a current longtime MLB player who wishes to remain anonymous.” Broshuis is currently representing minor league players in a 2014 class action lawsuit calling for the players to receive minimum wage.
In addition to announcing its presence, the group made its first demand, calling for MLB to immediately double minor leaguers’ salaries to $15,000 per year. Via NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra:
“This past week really provided an example of why this group needed to be out there,” Broshuis said on a conference call with the media this morning. He was referring to the situation in which they were forced to leave spring training camps due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite their reliance on those complexes for food, training facilities and often housing during spring training.
Via ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle:
“The reason we are here is because of the working conditions a lot of minor league players face,” Broshuis said. “There is no reason why players should be making below-poverty-level wages in an industry with over $10.7 billion in revenue, or that they should be forced to work through spring training without pay, or that they should be forced to cram six guys into a two-bedroom apartment sleeping on air mattresses.”
MLB declined to comment on the group’s announcement and demand, pointing to last week’s announcement that minor leaguers would receive the per diems they would have been paid through April 8, the remainder of their spring training. That amounts to $400 per week for the next three weeks, a bit of cash in a pinch, but not much more than that, at a time when the minor league season is on hold as well. You can listen to Broshuis’ interview with Meg Rowley and Ben Lindbergh on Effectively Wild here.
Marlins Park to Become Testing Site
With seven straight seasons of ranking dead last in the NL in attendance — and last in the majors in each of the past two, with just over 811,000 paying customers — Marlins Park lends itself to easy jokes. While the current delay to the start of the 2020 regular season won’t increase the count at the turnstiles, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez announced via Twitter on Sunday that the ballpark’s parking lot will become a site for drive-through coronavirus testing this week. Miami has the highest concentration of COVID-19 infections in the state.
Via Sunday’s Miami Herald:
Public health authorities are working with the Florida National Guard and municipal governments to set up a station where people can be tested for free and receive results in 1-2 days. The site will be expected to run 350-400 tests a day. The test will be available for the Miami-Dade County residents who will make appointments through 311, the county’s government services line. People will be connected with Jackson Health professionals for screening for symptoms before they are scheduled.
The news came a day after a similar announcement that the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, would become a drive-through testing site as well, albeit only for first responders, whether or not they are showing symptoms, and people 65 or older with COVID-19 symptoms. On Friday, a testing center opened at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, albeit with restrictions as well: people over 50 years old with symptoms, healthcare workers with symptoms, and a variety of healthcare workers with direct contact with direct patient contact. Other venues, including the Washington NFL team’s FedEx Field and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, have similarly become testing sites, and it figures that more cities will use their sports venues to follow suit.
In New York, the Mets offered the city’s Emergency Management office the use of their Citi Field parking lot, though it’s not yet clear yet if or when this will happen. Meanwhile, governor Andrew Cuomo declined an offer to use Madison Square Garden, home of the NBA’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers, as a hospital/medical facility.
For drive-through tests, patients are generally screened at the entrance of a parking lot, and directed to the test tent if they meet the criteria. They remain in their cars while being tested, which involves the swabbing of a nostril for a sample, which is placed in a biohazard bag and sent to an approved testing facility.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.