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Column: Players again find a reason not to trust MLB, and this time it’s life or death

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant warms up during baseball practice.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant believes players are at risk of contracting the coronavirus this season.
(Kamil Krzaczynski / Associated Press)

The reckless road being traveled by baseball has taken a dangerous stop.

In October, the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros met in the World Series.

On Monday, both teams canceled summer workouts because the players didn’t feel safe.

Play ball? Play stall.

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Five days after major league teams returned to work in anticipation of a sprinting season, the sport had become a third base coach frantically holding up runners. On a day when baseball boldly announced its 60-game schedule, baseball boorishly botched enough coronavirus tests to threaten the existence of even one opening day.

The Astros, Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals shut down their workouts because of tardy test results. The Arizona Diamondbacks delayed their workouts for the same reason, as did the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.

Then there are the Angels, who delayed their workout, then made it voluntary, and with good reason. On Sunday, the test administrators and collectors didn’t show up for work, so the players essentially tested themselves.

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Think about that. If the players can’t even trust the owners with a swab, how can they trust them with their lives?

The answer is, right now, they can’t, so much that instead of celebrating his first appearance in a Dodgers uniform, outfielder Mookie Betts is still wondering whether he’ll ever wear one.

When asked in a video conference whether he entertained shutdown thoughts about never playing for his new team, he sullenly said: “Yeah, now, I still have my doubts just based off what’s going on. I’m definitely preparing the same way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t doubts that kind of go on with the facts that are in front of you.”

The facts are that because bubble-free Major League Baseball is attempting something the NBA or MLS or the WNBA wouldn’t dare try, its protocols need to be perfect. And they’re not. They’re not even close. They’re a noodle-armed lefty getting shelled in the top of the first.

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MLB sends all its tests to a lab in Utah, and you’re not going to believe the excuse it gave for all the delayed results. It basically said the Fourth of July weekend ate its homework.

Watching the Dodgers and Angels must be done from outside stadiums in 2020, but here are nine ways MLB and TV networks could boost the experience.

“We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence,” MLB said in a statement.

What? So those lab techs were busy barbecuing and watching fireworks? Or, even worse, baseball forgot that express mail doesn’t operate on holiday weekends and failed to make other arrangements?

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It all was so joyous when baseball announced its return, but that fantastical elation has quickly evaporated into a familiar reality. The billionaire owners aren’t just greedy, they’re gross. After spending three months fighting the players over every penny, they’re now nickel-and-diming them to death with unprofessional medical oversight and clumsy logistical assistance.

The lack of continued testing and prompt results means players could be playing catch and fielding grounders and swinging the bat next to someone who has the virus and doesn’t even know it. How long before one of those players brings that virus home to a compromised member of his family? How long before more than just a single workout is shut down?

Is it any wonder the Angels’ Mike Trout is uncertain about playing this season, or that the Dodgers’ David Price already bailed? Is it any wonder that Betts — who might be playing only to accrue the service time necessary to become a free agent next offseason — openly ponders even the existence of a season?

“The main concern is the safety and health ... there’s a lot going on,” Betts told reporters. “We haven’t gotten tests back. We don’t know who’s sick, who’s not sick. ... There’s just a lot going on that needs to be addressed.”

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“I wanted to play this year because I thought it would be safe. Honestly, I don’t feel that.”

Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs third baseman

Asked whether he was confident in the protocols, he said: “I can’t say I’m that confident because I haven’t been shown yet. It’s kind of tough to be confident in something that hasn’t proved to be foolproof. It’s kind of out of my control, but it’s in somebody’s control ... and whoever’s control it’s in has to find a way to make it work or this whole operation may not be able to work.”

If you don’t buy Betts’ fear, listen to the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant in a Monday video conference with reporters.

“What we agreed to was testing every other day, and we’ve had guys who showed up [June 28] and hadn’t gotten tested again [until] seven days later,” Bryant said.

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He added: “I wanted to play this year because I thought it would be safe. Honestly, I don’t feel that.”

It’s not only the players who are worried. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo became that rare executive to question the entire season.

In a statement regarding the closing of the defending World Series champions’ camp, he said: “We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families. ... Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their labs. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”

This should have been a column trumpeting the newly released schedule that has the Dodgers opening July 23 at Chavez Ravine against the San Francisco Giants. This should have been a column rubbing its hands in glee over the four games against the Astros, two in Houston in July, two here in September.

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Instead, with all the protocol problems, this is a day to lament an early nine-game road trip to virus hot spots in Houston, Phoenix and San Diego. This is a day to worry about another trip back to [Arlington] Texas, back to Phoenix and back to San Diego. Do they really need to visit those hot spots twice?

Joe Maddon, the ever-optimistic Angels manager, called this past weekend’s testing delays a “hiccup” before clarifying, “I know it’s serious, I know it’s critical, and I know we can’t have it.”

Yeah, it’s probably a little worse than a hiccup. Five days after its glorious restart and baseball is already gasping for breath.

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