The Cubs were one of the luckiest teams in baseball with no positive COVID-19 cases among their players during the abbreviated 2020 season, but their schedule was still impacted by the pandemic when their hot start was interrupted by an outbreak on the Cardinals at the start of August.
The pandemic was the context for everything after March 2020 and Cubs baseball was no exception. Before the season even started pitching coach Tommy Hottovy detailed his experiences with COVID-19 for the Mully and Haugh Show and really set the tone for how the organization would approach playing baseball in the pandemic:
“It is important to understand that, guys, I’m 38 years old,” Hottovy said on the Mully & Haugh Show on Wednesday morning. ”I’ve been poked, prodded, tested for the last 16 years in Major League Baseball. I’ve had no underlying issues, nothing that would red flag me as somebody that would get hit pretty hard with this virus. But I did. My journey through this virus was not like ones you hear of younger people who are asymptomatic or only have it for a few days. I got crushed. I did have to go the hospital for a little bit of time to get checked and do all the breathing treatments.”
“The problem with is on day eight through 14, it crushed me,” Hottovy said. ”It got into my lungs. I got the full what they call the COVID pneumonia, a viral pneumonia, shortness of breath, really trouble breathing, constant fevers.”
The Cubs had Hottovy open their camp explaining his experiences to the team which was critical to some players, like former Cub Yu Darvish, making the decision to play in 2020 as Sahadev Sharma of the Athletic reported in July:
“It was a tough decision,” Darvish said. “But everybody’s still in it. Other teammates have families. Everybody has concerns. But everybody decided to play, so it makes it a little bit easier for me to make a decision to play.”
The Cubs opened training camp by listening to pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who detailed his own serious COVID-19 case and a 30-day quarantine from his family. Though initially frustrated with the delays in MLB’s testing system, the Cubs so far have not announced a positive test for a player. Manager David Ross, on-field Tier 1 personnel and Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group wear masks out of caution and concern for others — not for political statements.
In fact, the Cubs were one of the teams leading the way to make sure their players weren’t tempted to break team protocols on the road. Marc Carig and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic detailed the lengths the Cubs front office staff went to in order to ensure their players had everything they needed without leaving their team hotel:
Every team can make that appeal and stress the importance of being cautious to help protect loved ones at home. But the Cubs didn’t want to totally rely on self-policing and the economic incentives in the arbitration system and the free-agent market.
With the travel industry decimated, the Cubs shopped for hotels with outdoor space that could be turned into an open-air lounge for the duration of their stays. Instead of sitting in their rooms, players and staffers could eat, hang out and make phone calls in those patio areas. In addition to meal money, the team is supplying three boxed meals a day on the road.
Instead of the usual early bus and late bus, the Cubs are scheduling buses to run at 20-minute intervals to avoid crowding during those rides, cut down on extra time at the ballpark and eliminate the need for ride-sharing services or private transportation.
That investment paid off as the Cubs avoided positive cases on their roster all season, but they still found themselves stuck at home for four days after a 10-3 start when the St. Louis Cardinals suffered a massive team outbreak as they traveled to Milwaukee.
The Cardinals managed to complicate that outbreak by traveling twice within the incubation period resulting in more positive cases on both ends of travel. And while they eventually managed to pull together what passed for a season with the help of 11 doubleheaders, it was clearly touch and go there for a while as to whether or not the Cardinals would be able to complete the enough of the 2020 season to qualify for the playoffs.
With multiple vaccines currently being distributed in the United States and more on the horizon, the 2021 season should be able to avoid many of the worst case scenarios we saw in 2020. However, the timeline for vaccinating relatively healthy, young athletes is still unclear and we might not have seen the last of baseball games postponed due to the pandemic.
On the fourth Day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: a four game delay in the season due to COVID-19, a three game lead to win the division in 2020, two first round draft picks non-tendered and one World Series ring in the Theo Epstein Era.