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Dodgers players celebrate defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tex., on Oct. 27, 2020.Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They won the World Series, meaning they will be the only people in Major League Baseball who have fond memories of what passed for a baseball season in 2020.

This thing began in strife – a weeks-long public argument between players and teams over what was really important here. In the end, they managed to agree that it was money and then further agreed to pretend it was safety.

From the off, it was clear baseball players and coaches either didn’t understand the COVID-19 rules or didn’t care to follow them.

Teams treated their stadiums like Level-5 CDC containment units. Getting into one required apps, temperature checks, questionnaires, constant attention to hygiene. All of it meant to convey the impression of a sealed environment.

But once the games ended, the players were free to come and go as they pleased in whatever town they found themselves in. Who could have guessed that wouldn’t work out so hot?

Down on the field, MLB promised strict masking and physical distancing from the people in the dugout. Nobody did that. By the end, only the managers were wearing masks on the bench and you got the impression it was only because it allowed them to hide their expressions of dismay.

Tuesday’s deciding game of the World Series was the disastrous PR cherry to top the season’s mud pie. Los Angeles’s Justin Turner was informed in the seventh inning that he’d tested positive for coronavirus. Why even tell him at that point? He’s obviously infected half the guys there already. Why not just pretend you’re giving him a Gatorade shower and dump a big tub of bleach on him?

Turner disappeared for a couple of innings. Nursing a small lead, the Tampa Bay Rays consulted their BaseballMatic4000 analytics machine. The machine has apparently achieved sentience and bet heavily against its owners. Because that’s the only reason it would have told them to pull starter Blake Snell, who was on an almighty roll.

Tampa collapsed. L.A. won. And during the celebrations that followed, Turner – fresh off his positive test – was out there celebrating with everyone else. The scolds in the media flipped out. The commissioner got booed.

The whole thing was a mess, which seemed apropos. This season began in chaos and ended in farce. Soon may it be forgotten.

In the health and safety sense, baseball has become a nice metaphor for society at large. When it comes to COVID-19 prep and avoidance, there is what people say and what they do. Just being out in the world for an hour or two convinces you the two things are becoming more divergent by the day.

Have you been to an outdoor restaurant patio lately? Because we are beginning to test the limits of what the word ‘outdoor’ means.

A year ago, I would have said it is an open-air space, unbounded either by walls or a roof, or both.

In the past couple of weeks, as the weather turned and indoor dining disappeared, what were once patios have become outbuildings attached to empty restaurants. Like wedding tents, but fully enclosed.

In some instances, these structures are constructed as tubes – open at either end. But most of these set-ups are only ‘outdoor’ if you believe walls can only be called walls if they are made of bricks and plaster, never plastic sheeting or glass.

Is this safe? I guess that depends on what you call safe. Because as long as the restaurant says it’s outdoor, and the people eating there consider it outdoor and the government doesn’t define what is outdoor, we can agree it is outdoor. And outdoor dining is safe enough.

Of course, this is actually indoor dining. But just as long as no one calls it indoor dining, everything’s cool.

This is where baseball ended up. There was the protocol and then there was its implementation.

The first and, as it turns out, only problem was writing a 'rona rulebook. That took forever and occasioned a fair bit of infighting. (Remember Blue Jays infielder Travis Shaw announcing that strict quarantine – which is where baseball ended up at the very end – was “not an option” for him.)

But then everyone figured out the implementation was not going to be enforced. Because what was MLB going to do? Send the mask police into the dugouts during a game?

One effect of the early COVID-19 breakout on the Phillies and Marlins was eliminating the element of fear. All the players who tested positive were fine. The league lost its only effective stick – ‘You will get sick and die’ – and wasn’t in the position to offer a carrot instead.

At that point, everyone in MLB tacitly agreed that creating the rules had been such a hassle, asking people to follow them as well was overkill.

That’s how you get Turner flouting the most basic law – if you’ve got the bug, stay away from people. He and his colleagues had been breaking baseball’s rules for months and nothing terrible had happened. Why would he start now?

Right at the end, baseball faced the problem that’s confronted governments since summer – not enough people are scared. They are still worried what their neighbours think of them, so they’re not going to have a rager on Saturday night with a dozen cars thrown up on the lawn. But they will have people in their house, or go to church or enjoy an ‘outdoor’ meal. We all know these people. Maybe you are these people.

Every time someone flouts the rules, the rules become less meaningful. Without meaning to do so, baseball did yeoman’s work on this score. Because there they were on TV every night, all the baseball players, few of them following their own rules and with no consequences.

People freaked out over Turner. But if, as is likely, he’s fine in a few days, that’s another dent in the rule of COVID-19 law. It’d be easy to blame this on MLB. God knows it deserves a good dressing-down for all sorts of reasons.

But the real question is whether the Justin Turners of the world are the outliers or are they us, only they happen to bend the rules where everyone else can see them?

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