Wiedmer: Follow Rick Honeycutt's advice, and MLB season might yet be saved

AP photo by Ross D. Franklin / Rick Honeycutt, right, played for Lakeview High School, the University of Tennessee and six MLB franchises, and he later enjoyed a long and successful tenure as pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
AP photo by Ross D. Franklin / Rick Honeycutt, right, played for Lakeview High School, the University of Tennessee and six MLB franchises, and he later enjoyed a long and successful tenure as pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When the Dodgers begin their abbreviated spring training workouts next week in Los Angeles, Rick Honeycutt won't be there.

"When all this started," Honeycutt said of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, "(Dodgers president of baseball operations) Andrew (Friedman) told me to get on a plane, come home and stay here until it was over. So that's what I'm doing."

That doesn't mean that the Chattanooga native's days on the Dodger Blue payroll are over after retiring as pitching coach at the close of last season, his 14th straight in that position. He's still with the organization as a special assistant. Whenever the minor leagues resume play, there's a good chance he'll drop by a ballpark or two to see how the farmhands are doing.

But until then, somebody in government should hire him to become Czar of the COVID-19 Mask.

"If I were coaching this year, I don't know that I'd wear a mask when I was on my computer or alone in a hotel room, but I'd absolutely wear one around others," Honeycutt said Friday after recording a 1-under-par 71 on the difficult course at Council Fire Golf Club. "How can you not?"

Then Honeycutt, who will turn 66 on Monday, expanded his thoughts on the subject.

"It's like the parent who takes his kid to daycare with a little bit of a temperature," he said. "Now you're putting everybody else at risk. You can't be a spreader. You've got to take every possible precaution, and that sometimes means wearing a mask and gloves. I can't understand why we weren't being told to wear masks and gloves in the beginning of this. Everybody thinks, 'It can't happen to me.' But this can happen to anybody."

There's surely a public service announcement somewhere in his future, or at least there should be. Especially in the Los Angeles area or here in the Tennessee Valley, where Honeycutt first stood out at Lakeview High School before moving on to bigger stardom at the University of Tennessee, then finally pitching for 21 seasons in the major leagues.

But it's not only the threat of the coronavirus itself that concerns Honeycutt as Major League Baseball attempts to stage a 60-game regular season, then playoffs.

"There's probably a higher probability of getting the virus than getting injured," he said of the next few weeks. "And with the virus, you have to think they'll take every precaution, taking temperatures every day, trying to isolate from the outside world as much as possible. Everybody is just going to have to be extremely smart with what they do away from the ballpark.

"No poor choices. Team not self. You've got to hammer that into their heads."

But - because there's always a but in moments like this - Honeycutt also noted that "baseball is accustomed to doing a certain way," a reference to the typical six weeks allotted for spring training instead of half that preparation time in July. Camps in Arizona and Florida shut down in mid-March with the intended start of the regular season still two weeks away.

"You worry about conditioning with so short a spring training. You can't replace game action," Honeycutt said. "You're not going to run as hard to first trying to beat out a bunt in practice or even a spring training game as you do in a real game. With the shorter practice time, could that lead someone to pop a hamstring? I'm very concerned about injuries when there's only three weeks of training before the season starts. Yes, most of these guys have been working out, staying in shape, but staying in shape is nowhere near the same as being in game shape."

That said, COVID-19 remains the top concern for all of baseball, including its obvious ability to shut down the sport at some point down the road.

There is also the very real concern that some players may understandably elect to sit the season out due to health concerns for themselves or family members. As ESPN noted a couple of days ago, a player or coach with a preexisting condition that puts him at high risk for the virus can sit out the season while retaining his salary and service time.

Even players who are not high risk but have a pregnant wife (All-Star talents Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Zack Wheeler are among those in that category) or have an immunocompromised family member can also sit, though they won't be paid or collect service time.

Beyond that, if enough players get sick or decide to sit, the March agreement between owners and players states that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to pull the plug on the season if "the number of players who are unavailable to perform services due to COVID-19 is so great that the competitive integrity of the season is undermined."

Some would argue that the competitive integrity of the season was undermined a long time ago. But with billions of dollars at stake for owners and players alike, perhaps you can't fault them for the effort to attempt to salvage what they can.

Advised Honeycutt with words sure to be repeated in all 30 MLB team's clubhouses: "Just do your best to control the things you can control. If people would just use common sense, we wouldn't be here now."

In other words, above all else, wear a mask.

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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