In his role as the Washington Nationals’ union representative and as part of the MLB Players’ Association’s eight-member executive subcommittee, Max Scherzer was part of the talks in the last few months as the MLBPA and Major League Baseball tried to hammer out a deal to handle health, safety, and financial concerns for a potential 2020 MLB season.
In that role, the 35-year-old, 12-year veteran (and three-time Cy Young winner) was privy to a good deal of information on the testing that would have to take place in order to play out an MLB season amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The information he got on the testing procedures, Scherzer explained on Saturday, helped make him more comfortable with the idea of starting thing up again for a 60-game, 66-day season MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred imposed when MLB and the MLBPA couldn’t come together and agree on a framework for the 2020 campaign.
With teammates like Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opting out, and players around the big leagues expressing concern about their safety, Scherzer said that the concerns were valid, though he decided he was comfortable with his own decision to play.
“Everybody has their own decisions about how they view the risk here, because inherently, you can never get to zero,” in terms of the risk, Scherzer acknowledged.
“You just have to — I mean, that’s just the reality of this, and how you view the risk, and how you view it with your family, that’s everybody’s personal decision.
“So, how someone personally comes down in how they view it for the safety of their loved ones, at the end of the day, that’s their own personal choice. I can only speak for myself.
“And for me, how I view the testing, I guess that’s where being part of the Union and the subcommittee of getting to see really the efficacy of the saliva test that we have. It’s better than the nasal swab test.
“Actually reading those studies and seeing that they can detect the virus at a higher rate really to me alleviates a lot of fears for me on my end, especially for my wife and my kids as well, that I wouldn’t be necessarily bringing it home, because the testing is going to be happening at a frequency that should provide the answer to the result that if I were to somehow contract it that I would be able to test for it at an early enough stage.
“For me, the testing is such a huge aspect of this, of restarting our season, and the test that we do have seems to be ... a very highly accurate test, so I do feel safe about going into a clubhouse and knowing that everybody else has tested multiple times negative to really curtail any possibility that somebody could have it right now.”
When he spoke to other players about their concerns, Scherzer explained, the obvious and foremost question on everyone’s minds was simply whether or not it would be safe to play during a pandemic.
“Just, ‘How are we going to be safe?’” he was asked.
“Obviously,” Scherzer said, “... this seems when you have asymptomatic carriers that this is inherently risky, and how could you mitigate that risk? That’s kind of what we were wanting to hear from the experts and especially the CDC and the epidemiologists, ‘How could you do this?’ And when you start understanding okay, you’ve got to start worrying about your off-field behavior, of making sure you avoid any high-risk situations. Make sure that you’re getting tested at a frequency every few days to be able to catch a virus if somebody were to contract it.
“And then have protocols while you’re at the field. Make sure that you have multiple lines of defense if somebody were to get it.
“The biggest thing I guess in my mind that this came back to, is to prevent the spread.”
If it’s detected in time, Scherzer said, then everyone can hopefully avoid having it spread to teammates.
“You can’t prevent anyone from contracting the virus if they catch it away from the field,” Scherzer continued. “Our biggest concern is the spread of the virus and having it spread throughout a clubhouse, and so when you factor in the testing and the fact that we have protocols and PPE in place to help prevent — even if there was somebody that were to contract it and get through the testing system, that there is still even an additional line of defense to prevent the spread.
“To me, that kind of alleviates a lot of fears. At least for me, and hopefully I was able to convey that to the other players.”
While he knows the protocol for on-field behavior will require that pitchers not lick their fingers to get a grip on the ball, Scherzer said he was improvising a work-around.
“As of right now,” he said, “I don’t know what the safety protocols are going to be during the games other than that I can’t lick my fingers. I’ve worked on trying to just touching the back of my hair to try to get some sweat to get some moisture on my fingers.”
While some habits are ingrained after years of repetitive actions, which will make it hard for some players to break them, Scherzer said whole licking the fingers thing shouldn’t be too hard to avoid.
“Really my licking the fingers, has really come on about the lasts few years, so it hasn’t been terribly too long,” Scherzer told reporters.
“For me the hardest part is — because I like to have the base of my hand, where I like the moisture to get that last extra grip.
“It’s a little adjustment to try to be able to find how to touch just your hair with just the pads of your fingers.
“That will take some getting used to, and figuring out how to make that work to make sure that I have a good grip on the ball.”
Another thing that will take some getting used to is playing in empty ballparks, at least early in the season, and Scherzer didn’t have an issue with the talk that fans might eventually get back into the stands even though that was a point of contention in negotiations over how salaries for the 2020 campaign would be handled.
Scherzer said he would be fine with fans returning at some point, if it’s handled carefully.
“To me it seems totally possible that that can happen,” he said. “Obviously not at full capacity.
“If fans are in here wearing masks in outdoor stadiums and being socially distanced, I understand where the owners are talking about having that being a possibility and what that would look like.
“Obviously they know best of how they would actually go about having a process of bringing the fans into the stadiums.
“When I hear that that’s music to my ears as well, because playing in front of empty stadiums is not something I want to do. I’d much rather have fans in the stands.”