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With baseball season at a critical crossroads, all involved — even the Cubs — must do better

An extreme rarity in baseball, without a single positive COVID-19 result among players since intake testing began a month ago, the Cubs nevertheless are having a hard time living up to the letter of the law in terms of health-and-safety protocols on the field.

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds
Anthony Rizzo in the visitors’ dugout at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No hugs, no spits, no errors.

No fist bumps or high-fives, either.

Masks on whenever possible, proper distancing in the dugout and so on.

Major League Baseball’s 2020 operations manual provided an extensive list of things players can’t do in a pandemic season, but some things aren’t as straightforward as they appear when recommendations meet reality.

Even the Cubs — an extreme rarity in baseball, still without a positive COVID-19 result among players since intake testing began a month ago — are having a hard time living up to the letter of the law in terms of health-and-safety protocols on the field.

‘‘We definitely probably high-five more than is allowed,’’ manager David Ross admitted, ‘‘but we’ve got hand sanitizer waiting right afterward. We’re doing the best we can and trying to have fun and win ballgames.’’

But is that good enough? MLB commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t think so. According to an ESPN report, the embattled Manfred told MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark the season could be shut down — as soon as early next week — if the sport doesn’t navigate its way through the critical crossroads it finds itself at right now. And Manfred clearly is putting the onus on the players.

It has been a frightening week in baseball, with 21 members of the Marlins’ organization alone testing positive. Friday brought word that two Cardinals players had tested positive.

Meanwhile, at Wrigley Field and every other big-league park — and on TVs everywhere — there have been plainly visible instances of missteps. Some have involved spitting. Others have involved players sitting or standing shoulder-to-shoulder — without masks — in dugouts. The Cubs have their high-fives.

After right-hander Kyle Hendricks threw a complete-game shutout in the season opener, multiple Cubs — most noticeably Ross — greeted him with hugs.

‘‘It’s a fine line,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘When the game starts, we’re locked in on trying to win a championship and winning every day and doing it smartly, as well.

‘‘Can we be better? Absolutely. It’s just one of those things where, when you really turn that switch on, you start competing. And when it really counts, your baseball instincts take over.’’

Government officials reportedly have expressed concern to MLB about what they’re seeing on TV. That narrative puts players under a harsh spotlight, but it should make Manfred and MLB owners sweat, too.

Did they rush into this unwisely and poorly prepared?

Should MLB have created so-called ‘‘bubbles,’’ as the NBA, NHL and other leagues have?

Is there real reason to think the 2020 season will reach its intended finish line, World Series and all?

‘‘It’s real easy to listen to all the noise,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘But we come in today, we do our job today and we hope that tomorrow . . . the Cardinals are [missing] only two of their guys and not six to eight and it [hasn’t] spread there.

‘‘We just play baseball today, then wake up tomorrow and come and play tomorrow and look up, and hopefully it’s the end of September and we’re getting ready for a playoff run.’’

Rizzo tweeted in frustration Thursday in Cincinnati after the Cubs sat through hours of pregame and a 55-minute rain delay at Great American Ballpark before their game against the Reds was postponed. A day later, he called the projected forecast ‘‘probably the worst I’ve seen in Cincinnati playing there.’’

MLB announced on the fly that it is instituting seven-inning games for doubleheaders, effective Saturday. A decisive, one-season-only policy on rainouts might be a good idea, too.

‘‘Maybe that’s one they will consider after [Thursday],’’ Ross said.

Meantime, the players have to keep trying — in some cases, a lot harder — to be safe on and off the field. In the Cubs’ case, they have to keep trying to avoid a first positive test. A lot of pressure comes with that, no doubt.

‘‘I don’t know that I have an objection to pinning things on the players,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But I have an objection to pinning things on my players, who haven’t done anything. That’s where I’m at with it.’’