Respect Teammates

COVID Controversy Convulses Clubhouse In Cleveland

Respect.

Generally speaking, a huge amount of the bad blood we encounter across the sporting landscape stems from respect, or lack thereof, between competitors.

Of course, respecting one’s teammates carries its own chapter in the book of unwritten rules, and is currently why so many members of the Cleveland Indians are unhappy with pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac.

In this case, the respect in question involves COVID protocols and the health of the rest of the team.

On Aug. 7, the two pitchers left the team hotel in Chicago, contrary to mandated practices. Plesac was caught attempting to return in the wee hours on Aug. 8. Clevinger kept his participation to himself until after he’d joined the team on its flight back to Cleveland.

This was a clear breach of trust as far as various Indians players were concerned. Last Friday, Aug. 14—a week after the duo had gone out—a team meeting was called to address the issue. Both pitchers apologized for their actions, but for some in the clubhouse it was not enough. Numerous players spoke of their anger and disappointment, with veteran Oliver Perez notifying the team that he would opt out of the season if Clevinger and Plesac joined the ensuing road trip to Detroit and Pittsburgh. Of particular concern, beyond players’ individual health situations, is the fact that pitcher Carlos Carrasco underwent leukemia treatment last year and is particularly vulnerable.  

“They hurt us bad,” said Indians pitcher Adam Plutko, in a report by Jeff Passan for ESPN.com. “They lied to us. They sat here, in front of you guys, and said things publicly that they didn’t follow through on. It’s gonna be up to them. It really is.”

“We’ve got to understand that you can’t put yourself first,” Francisco Lindor told Cleveland.com. “In the times we’re in, you cannot put yourself first.”

Given that both pitchers have tested negative for COVID, the Indians front office could have justifiably let the situation slide without further incident. The anger among players, however, forced their hand, and Clevinger and Plesac were subsequently sent to the team’s alternate site in Lake County for at least 10 days. So diminished is the duo’s clubhouse standing that Cleveland.com openly wondered whether one or both should be traded.

This is all about trust. Traditionally, trust among teammates means being able to maintain one’s ability to perform on the field, and to protect teammates’ secrets off of it. Neither of those categories, however, has an impact on general health in the clubhouse. We are breaking new ground this season in so many ways.

It speaks especially loudly that Clevinger is one of baseball’s brightest stars, that Plesac has put up a 1.29 ERA from the fourth spot in the rotation, and that both have been instrumental to Cleveland having the league’s best rotation through the early weeks of the schedule.

Passan’s report details service-time issues that might actually delay free agency for Clevenger and arbitration for Plesac by a full season, depending upon how long they are left off of the roster. That, though, is a front-office concern.

Far more interesting is what’s happening inside the clubhouse. For Indians players to force out two vital pieces of their early-season success because they don’t trust them speaks incredibly loudly about how seriously players are taking these particular concerns, and how much faith they are putting in each other as regards their own safety.  

Clevinger and Plesac failed in that regard. How well they recover—how well they’re allowed to recover—remains to be seen.

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