Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19, and still celebrated with the team on the field after winning the World Series on Wednesday night. Everything about the decision felt uncomfortable at best and negligent at worst, with all parties involved making mistakes along the way.
During the regular season, everyone in Tier 1 — players, coaches, training and medical staffs — were tested every other day, with results coming usually the next day. During the postseason, everyone was tested daily, and per multiple reports Turner’s Monday test results didn’t arrive until the second inning of Game 6 on Tuesday. Those results were inconclusive, which wasn’t enough to remove Turner from the game.
Once the uncertainty about Turner arose, the league asked the lab to expedite his test from earlier Tuesday. When the result came back positive, league officials told the Dodgers to remove Turner from the game.
Edwin Ríos replaced Turner defensively at third base in the top of the eighth inning.
“Obviously we’re concerned when any of our players test positive,” commissioner Rob Manfred told Tom Verducci on the Fox broadcast after the game. “We learned during the game that Justin was positive. He was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”
The MLB operations manual has clear instructions on how to proceed when news of a positive test comes while at the ballpark:
In the event that a Club is informed of a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 while the Covered Individual is at a Club facility, the individual who tested positive must immediately isolate himself or herself in the Dedicated Isolation Area or, if possible, outside the Club facility, pending further guidance from his or her Team Physician. As set forth in Section 2.2.1 above, every Club must have a written COVID-19 Action Plan that, among other things, establishes procedures to assist such individuals to quickly and safely isolate and be housed in a manner that minimizes contact with others, including while the Club is on the road.
But Turner’s isolation didn’t last long.
While he wasn’t with the team for the final out, eventually Turner and his wife made their way to the field, taking pictures with the championship trophy, and even taking part in a team photo.
“I don’t think there was anyone that was going to stop him from going out,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said after the game. “It’s something that is no one’s fault. It’s just how things played out.”
But there should have been someone to stop Turner. There is a lot of blame here, namely Turner, MLB, and the Dodgers for letting any of this happen at all.
It’s easy to see why Turner wanted to be out there. This was the culmination of years of hard work after previous close calls for Turner, who turns 36 in four weeks and as of Wednesday morning is a free agent.
It’s easy to see why his teammates wanted him out there. Turner has been the Dodgers constant producer in October throughout his time in Los Angeles, and earlier this week catcher Austin Barnes rightfully called Turner “the heart and soul” of the team.
“He’s part of the team. Forget all that,” Mookie Betts said. “We’re not excluding him from anything.”
The timing of this is unclear to me, but I believe Corey Seager was speaking with reporters on Zoom before Turner was on the field, and echoed those sentiments.
“It’s gut-wrenching, it hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels,” Seager said. “If I could switch places with him right now, I would. That man more than anybody deserves to take a picture of that trophy, and celebrate with us, to have his family around and enjoy this moment. That got taken from him, and that’s just not right. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
That moment didn’t get taken from Turner at all.
Here’s an exclusive look at Justin Turner celebrating on the field after testing positive for COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/EvhQqFUw35— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 28, 2020
“I haven’t seen the pictures,” Friedman said. “If there are people around them without a mask, that’s not good optics at all.”
Like this, perhaps:
Turner defied protocol and broke isolation, and as Friedman said, there was nobody to stop him.
When told by MLB security that he had to leave, a person familiar with the matter said, Turner refused. He continued to share space not just with other players who had already been in close contact with him throughout the game, but with his teammates’ spouses, children and other family members who had not been.
That last part is key, since the entire point of isolation is to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition to the family members who Turner may or may not have been in close contact with, there were MLB officials and others.
As epidemiologist and Emery University professor Zachary Binney put it:
It was fine not to pull Turner until his inconclusive was confirmed in the 7th.— Zachary Binney (@zbinney_nflinj) October 28, 2020
It was fine to continue the game.
And I sympathize, but it was NOT fine for Turner to be any part of the celebrations. No excuses for Presidents or WS victories or anything. The virus doesn't care. https://t.co/GJUGaahoje
Turner knowingly had a contagious virus and interacted with others, potentially putting them at risk.
Major League Baseball released a statement on Wednesday, condemning Turner’s actions, and said it would investigate the incident:
“Immediately upon receiving notice from the laboratory of a positive test, protocols were triggered, leading to the removal of Justin Turner from last night’s game. Turner was placed into isolation for the safety of those around him. However, following the Dodgers’ victory, it is clear that Turner chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others. While a desire to celebrate is understandable, Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk. When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply.”
How much this spreads remains to be seen, but it’s very likely the Dodgers and their families, basically everyone in their “bubble” might have to stay in Texas for a while.
“From our standpoint, the people who were around them were people who would be in the contact-tracing web anyway, with just how closely a lot of us have been around each other until now,” Friedman said. “The subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important to figure out what we do, and to make sure that any of us that are potentially positive do not spread it to other people.”
The Dodgers’ entire traveling party was tested Tuesday night, and both the Dodgers and Rays were tested on Wednesday.
MLB’s statement said that when the Dodgers and Rays can return home “will be determined after being approved by the appropriate authorities.”