By Nico Iacono ’22
The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988 on Tuesday, October 2 in their Game 6 matchup against the American League-champion Tampa Bay Rays. Perhaps the night’s biggest story, however, was the positive COVID-19 test result registered by the Dodgers’ third baseman, Justin Turner. This positive outcome was the first such test result in MLB in 59 days, and incredibly, it occured as the last game of the season unfolded.
The timeline of this incident is most confusing.
It raises the question, “Why were the teams allowed to continue playing without MLB knowing if all players had tested negative?”
The MLB spit-tests its players, then sends the tests to a lab in Utah; for this specific game, the spit tests were taken on Monday, with Game 6 taking place on Tuesday. Nevertheless, for unclear reasons, the results were late to come back.
In the second inning of the Series-clinching Game 6, MLB representatives received a phone call from the Utah lab notifying them that the results for Turner were inconclusive. The decision was made that Turner would be allowed to continue to man the hot corner.
This all changed, however, when MLB was notified that other Turner tests had come back positive, and thus he was pulled from the game at the end of the 7th inning.
Turner’s exit was a heartbreaking moment, as he had played an integral role on the Dodgers for the past six seasons.
Series MVP Corey Seager expressed dismay over Turner’s situation: “To have that happen to a guy like that – a dude that’s reinvented himself when he came here, what he’s meant to this organization, this franchise, this community – to take that away from him is gut-wrenching. It hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels; if I can switch places with him right now, I would. That man, more than anybody, deserves to take a picture with this trophy, celebrate with us, have his family around, and enjoy this moment. It’s just not right.”
What turned out to be an even bigger deal was the fact that Turner ended up returning to the field after the game to take pictures and celebrate, leaving mandatory isolation and unmasking for the team picture after the game.
Major League Baseball released the following statement regarding their response to the positive case and Turner’s decision:
“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… 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 other’s safety and protection. 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.”
Although Turner ultimately issued a detailed apology and avoided punishment from MLB, Baseball’s error in allowing their championship game to be played without negative results across the board is still remarkable. Their decision not to punish Turner may very well set a precedent for other sports as they continue to modify their COVID-19 responses.