The Boston Red Sox have been suffering, and playing through, one of the worst COVID outbreaks in baseball the last two years. Unlike the mass outbreaks last year that shut teams down for days, the combination of better understanding of the virus, more rapid testing, vaccinations, and improved protocols have meant it can make sense to keep playing, even as a number of players are unavailable after testing positive. Fair to the team? That part is certainly debatable, but the safety is much less of a question than it was last summer.
To that end, Red Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe made an incredibly shocking accusation on the radio, claiming that MLB told the Red Sox to stop testing so they could keep playing without any additional shut-down risk:
#RedSox OF Hunter Renfroe on team’s COVID issues:
“MLB basically told us to stop the testing and just treat the symptoms. We’re like “No. We’re gonna figure out what’s going and keep this thing under control.””@LouMerloni: MLB asked you to stop testing?
Renfroe: “Yes.” pic.twitter.com/0UpKdvqtGG
— Merloni & Fauria (@MerloniFauria) September 9, 2021
That’s a doozy right there. MLB has denied the claim – more on that in a moment.
I saw this quote and wondered if that word “basically” was doing a lot of work. What does it mean for MLB to “basically” tell you to stop testing? Is that why this didn’t blow up into a HUGE scandal story immediately? I mean, really consider what Renfroe is saying. If it were a complete and accurate description of what happened, this would be one of the most atrocious examples of league misconduct in a very long time. Yet the story didn’t blow up like that.
With all appropriate deference to Renfroe’s experience – I don’t know the man or what really happened, and he said what he said – it just struck me as a little implausible that MLB would, in total defiance of safety, logic, and the agreement between the players and the league (an agreement subject to grievance procedures), just up and tell a team to stop testing during an outbreak. It doesn’t pass the smell test for me. I suspect that was true for most folks, and that’s why this didn’t blow up. Instead, it feels like maybe, at most, there was something said that fell into a gray area, was meant one way but was taken another way. I don’t think Renfroe is just making this up, but maybe something got lost in the game of telephone?
Nevertheless, MLB and the Red Sox had to respond, since it was such an extreme accusation:
⇒ MLB said that Renfroe’s comments are “completely wrong and inaccurate,” via ESPN.
⇒ From the Red Sox, via ESPN: “We have been following MLB’s COVID-19 protocols all season long,” the team said in a statement. “We have consulted closely with them on everything we’ve done and continue to test and their medical staff has been very supportive.”
Since the outbreak began, the Red Sox have conducted a boatload of tests:
Hunter Renfroe was mistaken when he said MLB has asked Red Sox to stop testing amid its outbreak. It’s the opposite: there have been a whopping 1,884 tests of Red Sox personnel from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9! Policy: regular testing of the unvaccinated, symptomatic and close contacts.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) September 10, 2021
Strictly speaking, this is not inconsistent with Renfroe’s claim – he said the players decided to keep testing despite MLB’s request to stop – but it does indicate that such a volume of testing, using league and team personnel and facilities, would be surprising if the league wasn’t supportive.
Again, I can’t presume to know what exactly Renfroe and other Red Sox players have experienced, but given the league’s ability and willingness to reschedule games throughout the pandemic, I would be shocked if the league actually wanted a team to stop testing during an outbreak. They would presumably want the exact opposite, since players and personnel getting seriously ill during an otherwise containable outbreak would be an outcome much worse than a postponed series. Some information is just missing here, I think.
In any case, here’s hoping the Red Sox get over this outbreak soon – it’s upwards of 15 to 20 cases at this point between players and personnel – and no one is too worse for the wear after recovery.