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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

World Series: Letting COVID-19 positive Justin Turner celebrate with Dodgers was shameful

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and third baseman Justin

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and third baseman Justin Turner pose for a group picture after the Dodgers defeated the Rays in Game 6 to win the World Series on Tuesday in Arlington, Texas. Credit: AP/Eric Gay

"I don’t think there was anyone that was going to stop him from going out."

Chilling words from Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, who delivered that response late Tuesday night to a question about the newly COVID-positive Justin Turner bolting from isolation to celebrate with his teammates on the crowded lawn of Globe Life Field.

What was Friedman thinking? Or anyone in the Dodgers’ organization, for that matter. Short answer: They weren’t using their brains at all. For a franchise supposedly stocked with baseball super-geniuses, this group apparently forgot what year it was, or why the ballpark was mostly empty for the World Series.

We’re not talking about a teenager grounded for breaking curfew sneaking out the second-floor window of his parents’ house. Turner tested positive for a highly contagious, deadly virus that has claimed the lives of 227,000 Americans and is rapidly on the uptick again nationwide.

Quarantine is not optional when someone contracts COVID-19. Just because Turner tweeted that he was fine -- "I feel great, no symptoms at all" -- under no circumstances should he have been allowed to return to the field, even with a mask, which he later had the audacity to remove for a team photo with the Commissioner’s Trophy (a smiling Dave Roberts, cancer survivor, was nearly cheek-to-cheek).

For months, MLB was worried about players violating the pandemic protocols in secret. And here was Turner after the Dodgers’ clinching victory, parading around on national TV, his every reckless move done in plain sight. While an entire country fears visiting their parents or even sending kids to school, Turner -- with the Dodgers’ tacit approval -- showed almost zero concern for infecting dozens of people around him. And should that happen, where does the outbreak end?

Apparently, Turner blew off MLB security’s attempts to steer him back indoors. No one was going to forcibly remove him from the field. But MLB seemed to suggest the threat of potential disciplinary action against Turner in releasing a statement Wednesday about the incident.

"Immediately upon receiving notice from the laboratory of a positive test, protocols were triggered, leading to the removal of Justin Turner from [Tuesday] night’s game," MLB’s statement said. "Turner was placed into isolation for the safety of those around him. However, following the Dodgers’ victory, it is clear that Turner chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others.

"While a desire to celebrate is understandable, Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk. When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply."

The Commissioner’s Office also is opening an investigation, in conjunction with the players association, as is needed for alleged violations of their pandemic guidelines. As far as Turner is concerned, this is an open-and-shut case. The Dodgers were ordered to remove Turner in the eighth inning of Game 6 after an expedited test from MLB’s Utah lab came back positive -- a huge problem in itself. Yet Turner decided to really lean into his role as Patient Zero in a way that no sane person would have imagined.

Everyone realizes that it was an impossibly tough break for Turner, who’s been an integral part of the Dodgers since 2014 and fell short in two previous trips to the World Series. Turner went from growing up a Dodgers’ fan in Long Beach to starring for his childhood team, and the fulfillment of that dream is a lifetime achievement. To not be at third base, beside his close friend Corey Seager, had to be torture.

"To take that away from him, it’s gut-wrenching," Seager said Tuesday night. "It hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels. If I could switch places with him right now, I would. That man more than anybody deserves to take a picture of that trophy, celebrate with us, have his family around and enjoy this moment. That got taken away from him and that’s just not right. That doesn’t sit well with me."

Clearly, Seager is a loyal pal of Turner’s. But if we’re talking right and wrong here, the Dodgers could not have behaved any worse. What are they upset about? Abiding by the public-health rules designed to prevent the spread of a deadly virus? Sorry you had to spend a few weeks cooped up in a five-star hotel eating room service. Life during a pandemic hasn’t been so great for the rest of us, either.

"We all feel for him," Clayton Kershaw said of Turner. "But I hope that he can take solace in the fact that we’re not here without him. He’s been our guide for a long time. He’s done so many incredible things for this organization. He’s been the rock in the postseason for us every single year."

The Dodgers have to pray that Turner doesn’t wind up being the guy that transformed their postgame party into a super-spreader event. Then again, based on the club’s cavalier attitude, they’d only have themselves to blame. MLB said both teams were tested again Wednesday before their travel home could be approved by the local health authorities, but the full extent of any possible outbreak may not be known for days.

"I think from our standpoint, the people who were around are people who would be in the contact tracing web anyway," Friedman said. "The subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important so that if any of us are potentially positive, we do not spread it to other people."

As opposed to Turner, of course, who was known to actually have COVID-19. The Dodgers treated him like he deserved some VIP exemption. Shameful.

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