PLEASE KEEP YOUR DIS­TANCE

Cubs do­ing best they can to abide by mlb pro­to­cols, but ‘baseball in­stincts’ some­times get in the way

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - BY STEVE GREENBERG | sgreen­berg@sun­times.com | @slgreen­berg

No hugs, no spits, no er­rors. No fist bumps or high-fives, ei­ther. Masks on when­ever pos­si­ble, proper dis­tanc­ing in the dugout and so on.

Ma­jor League Baseball’s 2020 op­er­a­tions man­ual pro­vided an ex­ten­sive list of things play­ers can’t do in a pan­demic sea­son, but some things aren’t as straight­for­ward as they ap­pear when rec­om­men­da­tions meet re­al­ity.

Even the Cubs — an ex­treme rar­ity in baseball, still with­out a pos­i­tive COVID-19 re­sult among play­ers since in­take test­ing be­gan a month ago — are hav­ing a hard time liv­ing up to the let­ter of the law in terms of health-and-safety pro­to­cols on the field.

‘‘We def­i­nitely prob­a­bly high-five more than is al­lowed,’’ man­ager David Ross ad­mit­ted, ‘‘but we’ve got hand san­i­tizer waiting right af­ter­ward. We’re do­ing the best we can and try­ing to have fun and win ball­games.’’

But is that good enough? MLB com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred doesn’t think so. Ac­cord­ing to an ESPN re­port, the em­bat­tled Man­fred told MLB Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tony Clark the sea­son could be shut down — as soon as early next week — if the sport doesn’t nav­i­gate its way through the crit­i­cal cross­roads it finds it­self at right now. And Man­fred clearly is putting the onus on the play­ers.

It has been a fright­en­ing week in baseball, with 21 mem­bers of the Mar­lins’ or­ga­ni­za­tion alone test­ing pos­i­tive. Fri­day brought word that two Cardinals play­ers had tested pos­i­tive.

Mean­while, at Wrigley Field and ev­ery other big-league park — and on TVs ev­ery­where — there have been plainly vis­i­ble in­stances of mis­steps. Some have in­volved spit­ting. Oth­ers have in­volved play­ers sit­ting or stand­ing shoul­der-to-shoul­der — with­out masks — in dugouts. The Cubs have their high-fives.

Af­ter right-han­der Kyle Hendricks threw a com­plete-game shutout in the sea­son opener, mul­ti­ple Cubs — most no­tice­ably Ross — greeted him with hugs.

‘‘It’s a fine line,’’ first base­man An­thony Rizzo said. ‘‘When the game starts, we’re locked in on try­ing to win a cham­pi­onship and win­ning ev­ery day and do­ing it smartly, as well.

‘‘Can we be bet­ter? Ab­so­lutely. It’s just one of those things where, when you re­ally turn that switch on, you start com­pet­ing. And when it re­ally counts, your baseball in­stincts take over.’’

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials re­port­edly have ex­pressed con­cern to MLB about what they’re see­ing on TV. That nar­ra­tive puts play­ers un­der a harsh spot­light, but it should make Man­fred and MLB own­ers sweat, too.

Did they rush into this un­wisely and poorly pre­pared?

Should MLB have cre­ated so-called ‘‘bub­bles,’’ as the NBA, NHL and other leagues have?

Is there real rea­son to think the 2020 sea­son will reach its in­tended fin­ish line, World Se­ries and all?

‘‘It’s real easy to lis­ten to all the noise,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘But we come in to­day, we do our job to­day and we hope that to­mor­row . . . the Cardinals are [miss­ing] only two of their guys and not six to eight and it [hasn’t] spread there.

‘‘We just play baseball to­day, then wake up to­mor­row and come and play to­mor­row and look up, and hope­fully it’s the end of Septem­ber and we’re get­ting ready for a play­off run.’’

Rizzo tweeted in frus­tra­tion Thurs­day in Cincin­nati af­ter the Cubs sat through hours of pregame and a 55-minute rain de­lay at Great Amer­i­can Bal­lpark be­fore their game against the Reds was post­poned. A day later, he called the pro­jected fore­cast ‘‘prob­a­bly the worst I’ve seen in Cincin­nati play­ing there.’’

MLB an­nounced on the fly that it is in­sti­tut­ing seven-in­ning games for dou­ble­head­ers, ef­fec­tive Satur­day. A de­ci­sive, one-sea­son-only pol­icy on rain­outs might be a good idea, too.

‘‘Maybe that’s one they will con­sider af­ter [Thurs­day],’’ Ross said.

Mean­time, the play­ers have to keep try­ing — in some cases, a lot harder — to be safe on and off the field. In the Cubs’ case, they have to keep try­ing to avoid a first pos­i­tive test. A lot of pres­sure comes with that, no doubt.

‘‘I don’t know that I have an ob­jec­tion to pin­ning things on the play­ers,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But I have an ob­jec­tion to pin­ning things on my play­ers, who haven’t done any­thing. That’s where I’m at with it.’’ ✶

GETTY IM­AGES

The Cubs’ Ja­son Kip­nis cel­e­brates a home run in the fourth in­ning Fri­day — mi­nus the high-fives.

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