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Commentary: Justin Turner’s apology is authentic. Rob Manfred’s apology is missing

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner holds the World Series championship trophy while standing next to his wife.
The Dodgers’ Justin Turner holds the World Series championship trophy while standing next to his wife, Kourtney Pogue.
(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

Justin Turner apologized. Rob Manfred did not.

The Dodgers won the World Series, Turner made a poor choice, and the league decided to point the finger at him first and investigate later.

Nine days later, the investigation made clear the situation was more complex than Turner escaping an isolation room and charging onto the field to celebrate despite testing positive for the coronavirus. Yet, in the statement he issued Friday, baseball commissioner Manfred used none of his 472 words to apologize to Turner for authorizing the league to paint him as an unqualified villain.

To be clear: Turner should have known better. That is why he used the words “I sincerely apologize” in the statement he issued Friday.

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Spreading the blame, MLB says it won’t punish Justin Turner for joining the Dodgers’ World Series celebration after his positive coronavirus test.

But there was no gray area in the words the league used on the morning after the Dodgers’ celebration: “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. . . . 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.”

That is the story line that took hold nationwide, and in these pages as well: Turner was a selfish player, and a hypocrite too, given how he had gone out of his way to share how he was leading the Dodgers to go above and beyond MLB’s healthy and safety protocols. That story was featured on national nightly newscasts.

“Less than a week before a presidential election, with a hurricane in the Gulf, each network newscast spent time talking about Turner, spinning what should have been a good news cycle for the league (a Dodgers win during COVID!) into a negative,” John Ourand of Sports Business Daily wrote.

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The story line quickly fell apart once Dodgers players spoke up. Kiké Hernández told The Los Angeles Times players thought Turner’s test result might have been a false positive and, if not, thought players would have been exposed to the virus already.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner celebrates on the field with the World Series trophy on Oct. 27.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Joe Kelly told WEEI the so-called bubble included umpires and on-field reporters he could see playing golf in areas open to the public and then interacting with players at the ballpark.

“I was insecure in the secure zone,” Kelly said.

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And, as Blake Treinen told Mad Dog Sports Radio: “I feel like MLB needs to be supporting [Turner] more than they are smearing him the way they did. . . . He asked if he could come on the field and people escorted him out there. It’s not like he ran out there like they’re saying it.”

In his statement Friday, Manfred said permission might have been “the product of a miscommunication.” He also said multiple Dodgers employees “said nothing to Mr. Turner as he made his way to the field” and that Turner had heard, albeit incorrectly, that other players had tested positive but had not been isolated.

The most damning part of the statement followed, and it was not damning for Turner.

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A joint statement from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, Dodgers infielder Justin Turner and Dodgers President Stan Kasten spreads the blame for Turner’s actions.

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This is what Manfred said on Fox, immediately after the series ended, with regard to Turner: “He was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”

This is what Manfred said Friday: “In retrospect, a security person should have been assigned to monitor Mr. Turner when he was asked to isolate, and Mr. Turner should have been transported from the stadium to the hotel more promptly.”

Read that again, slowly. Turner was isolated to prevent the spread of a potentially deadly virus, but no one was responsible for ensuring he wouldn’t leave the isolation room. That is a spectacular failure, and that is not on Turner.

Fortunately, and most importantly, no other players have tested positive, according to a person familiar with test results who was not authorized to speak publicly. The league has no definitive idea of how Turner contracted the virus. However, given the lack of spread among Turner’s teammates, the virus probably seeped into the bubble from outside.

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It is unlikely the virus will be controlled by the time next season starts, so MLB ought to learn from this situation as it updates its health and safety protocols. Indeed, as Manfred said, “We have all made mistakes.”

Complete coverage of the Dodgers winning their first World Series championship since 1988 after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series.

Again, Turner made a mistake. There is no hiding from that. But there was no need for the initial one-sided statement, which triggered speculation about discipline even though Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was not disciplined after violating protocols by going out on the town and lying about it. The statement also triggered speculation on social media that Turner might be damaged in free agency because of the incident.

Turner might be hurt in free agency, but that is because he will turn 36 in two weeks, in an analytically driven game unforgiving to players in his age range. What Clevinger did arguably was worse, and two weeks after his incident, the San Diego Padres enthusiastically traded for him. He was, after all, a top-of-the-rotation starter. He apologized, and life went on.

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“My thing is, why does it have to be blame him, blame them?,” Treinen said. “It’s not the player versus the league. It shouldn’t be league versus player. It should be, ‘Hey, look, we did our best to keep you guys safe. It failed. We don’t know why. So, instead of us pointing fingers, we support you guys. … We apologize. We don’t know how this happened. Let’s fix it.”

It was good to hear Treinen say those words. It would have been better to hear Manfred say them.


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