By Arnie Leshin
It was puzzling to watch this from the television. Obviously, something was wrong. And not to put a damper on the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the 2020 World Series Tuesday night, there was.
It was 3-1 LA in the top of the eighth inning of game six at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, when Dodger third baseman Justin Turner was pulled from the game. It was learned he had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the game, but it was inconclusive. Shorty after, it was, and as his teammates looked on in disbelief, Turner was coming off the field.
Prior to this, the chaotic, atenuous baseball campaign was played amid a coronavirus pandemic and was able to proceed to its season finale this week thanks in the large part to the sacrifices and adaptations of its participants. MLB announced no new positive teats among its latest batch of tests. No players had tested positive in 54 days. And by Monday, the day before game 6, the streak was up to 57.
But what surfaced Tuesday was the spoiler, was what the protocol didn’t need.
But with the electrifying and compelling story of these National League champions with the best regular-season record disposing of the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays for the franchise’s first Fall Classic championship since 1988, it left behind pointed questions about the 35-year-old Turner’s actions and the repercussions that followed.
By returning to the field in the aftermath of the clinching victory, Turner and the members of the Dodgers who backed him, also thrust the National Pastime directly into the larger societal divide over how to deal with a virus that has so far unofficially killed more than 226,000 Americans. The sport was mere hours away from a satisfying conclusion to a fraught season when Turner, in his eighth year with the franchise and a clubhouse leader with the shaggy red beard, was pulled.
What was puzzling was that Turner’s test from Monday when personnel within baseball’s quarantined postseason bubble were tested daily, and that it came back as inconclusive in the second inning Tuesday. But around the sixth inning it was learned that Turner was positive. Once the news was relayed to the Dodgers’ dugout, manager Dave Roberts pulled Turner, the oldest and longest-tenured Dodgers’ position player, a popular player, and often referred to as the heart and soul of the clubhouse.
Turner was then placed in isolation, missing the final out and the joyous scrum of players on the infield and the first part of the on field celebration.
But Los Angeles shortstop Corey Seager, named the World Series Most Valuable Player, saw things differently. It was an absence that angered some of the Dodgers.
“To take that away from him is gut-wrenching,” said Seager. “I can’t image how he feels. That guy more than anybody probably deserves to take his picture with that trophy and celebrate with us. That got taken away from him. That doesn’t sit right with me.”
Only minutes later and after being joined by his wife, Turner had returned to the field, initially wearing a mask. He hugged teammates, staff members, and the wives of and girlfriends of teammates, He posed near the WS trophy for a team photo, slipping his mask below his nose and mouth and later taking it off completely. Directly next to him seated in the first row was Roberts, who in 2010 was diagnosed with a form of cancer.
As it turned out, MLB security and league officials did reportedly attempt to keep Turner isolated, be he refused. It is unclear how far the actions of the security personnel went, or whether they even had authority to detain him. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the league was acting as if the 2020 safety protocols were still in place.
League officials reported on Wednesday afternoon that they would investigate the incident, but placed the blame on Turner, saying he had refused the orders of league security to remain in isolation.
MLB‘s updated protocols that had been jointly agreed upon by owners and the players’ union, stated that after a club receives notice of a positive test result for a player or staff member, the club notifies the infected individual and requires him or her to isolate (meaning no contact with anyone other than medical professionals) until they are cleared to return to club facilities.
By that wording, if the protocol was enforced and Turner appeased, he should have been isolated and not around coaches, teammates and so on. It is obvious that Turner’s return to the field put him in contact with teammates, coaches, franchise officials, and even wives and girlfriends of his teammates. It also pertained to the nature of the bubble and the close proximity in the dugout and other areas.
And clearly, Turner also made close contact with people, family members of players with whom he might not have previously infected, and who might not been aware of Turner’s positive test. At one point, Turner removed his mask again to pose on the mound with the trophy alongside his wife Kourtney. She leaned over to kiss him, and afterward, she quickly raised her mask.
And after all was said and done, there was no controversy looming over the Dodgers winning their seventh World Series, only that of the coronavirus protocol being ignored in place of the celebration.