Whicker: Dodgers’ Justin Turner forgot he was part of a larger community
No one deserved to sit dead center and front row, in the championship picture, like Justin Turner did.
He was job-hunting in 2014, trying to shake his Quadruple-A identity, and he ran into Tim Wallach, then a Dodgers coach at Cal State Fullerton’s intrasquad game.
Day by day he became the Dodgers’ leader and mentor. Month by month a clubhouse of individualists became tighter, younger, more committed and more studious.
Along the way, the third baseman made himself an All-Star and an MVP vote collector to an extent that hardly anyone over 30 ever has. He wasn’t the source of the Dodgers’ river of winning, which now includes eight consecutive division titles, three World Series appearances in four years, 10 postseason series victories and finally, in a domed DMZ next to a roller coaster, a world championship. But he was the prevailing current.
Turner came off the field in the eighth inning of Game 6 on Tuesday night and went into an isolation room. He did not intend to stay long. A team that had revolved around him would be celebrating shortly. The players wanted him there.
Reportedly, Major League Baseball officials tried to explain why he shouldn’t enter the field after he had tested positive for COVID-19, and Turner explained that their opinion was duly noted but meaningless. The team would feel incomplete without the ultimate team man.
This is where the story goes awry. Turner was unmindful of the larger team.
To play even a 60-game season, plus four playoff rounds, was a supreme challenge for everyone in baseball. It was a financial disaster and a logistical nightmare. It meant everyone had to hunker down in those neutral sites and block the outside world. Those who didn’t take it seriously, like Cleveland pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger, outraged their teammates.
Turner was unmasked for part of the postgame celebration. He and his teammates weren’t alone on that field. There were wives, some of them pregnant, and there were children, and club officials and photographers and broadcasters and all kinds of club personnel.
Turner was in close proximity with Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino and third base coach Rodney Linares and umpires Bill Miller and Jerry Meals. He tweeted that he felt fine, which wasn’t the point.
But then Turner is just reflecting a significant chunk of the national attitude.
COVID-19 can be handled with a Kleenex and a Tylenol. Death rates are down. The more people who get the virus, the more immunity we’ll share. The cases are skyrocketing merely because there are more tests.
This ignores a lot of science, particularly the “long-haul” phenomenon, in which the recovered patient is still bogged down, or worse, by symptoms. Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen admitted Tuesday that he still isn’t all the way back from his coronavirus episode.
Dr. David Putrino, a rehab specialist and neuroscientist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, described long-haul COVID-19 this way, to The Atlantic: “Every day, you reach your hand into a bucket of symptoms, throw them on a table and say, ‘This is for you today.’”
Tony Finau, the golfer, quarantined for 10 days in Las Vegas after he tested positive. “I could see where you could die from it,” he told Golf World. “It can take your immune system to a place where I can totally see you getting hospitalized from it, and it affects your life. It was worse than the flu and it lasted way longer.”
Despite Turner’s good works on the field and off, he now bears simmering resentment from those who can’t visit their ailing grandparents and, for long weeks, couldn’t get testing while pro athletes could. And how did Turner pick up COVID-19 when, for 65 of 66 days, no major league player had?
It is time to thank Kevin Cash, the Tampa Bay manager who removed Blake Snell from a unanimous decision he was winning. The Dodgers reacted like pardoned prisoners when Cash took Snell out with one out in the sixth. Two batters later, they led, 2-1, and would win, 3-1.
Cash, an excellent manager, now symbolizes the impersonal, didactic nature of modern baseball. No, it is not safe to assume the Rays would have won had he left Snell alone. But had they won, the Rays and Dodgers might have been marooned for another week before Game 7, thanks to quarantines, tests and contact tracing. That would have been asking too much. Cash’s small fiasco saved baseball from a giant one.
Now we await the damage done by Turner’s understandable self-indulgence. Major League Baseball issued a statement on Wednesday that sternly lectured him. Unfortunately, nobody from MLB was as vigilant Tuesday night, but leadership isn’t contagious.