MLB rebukes Turner for participating in World Series celebration

Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his wife Kourtney Pogue, hold the Commissioners Trophy after the team won Major League Baseball's World Series. Turner, who has tested positive for Covid-19, drew sharp criticism from MLB for his participation in on-field celebrations. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball has taken sharp aim at Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who violated Covid-19 protocols after testing positive for the virus by re-entering the field after the team’s World Series victory, and the league said it is now beginning a formal investigation into the matter.

MLB said Turner’s participation in the Dodgers’ on-field festivities at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, to celebrate the club’s first World Series title since 1988 came in direct defiance of league security personnel. Additionally, Turner at times was not wearing a face covering, particularly during a team photo in which he sat next to manager and cancer survivor Dave Roberts, and potentially exposed dozens of other people to the virus, including family members of Dodgers players and personnel.

“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,” MLB said. “When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply.

“The Commissioner’s Office is beginning a full investigation into this matter and will consult with the Players Association within the parameters of the joint 2020 Operations Manual,” the league said.

The league’s formal statement on the matter continued a significant day-after crisis in which the conclusion of the Dodgers’ World Series win over the Tampa Bay Rays has been immediately followed by a widespread effort to determine how Turner contracted the virus, particularly since he has been in MLB’s controlled quarantined environment during the entire month-long postseason.

MLB is also now undergoing additional contact tracing and awaiting further test results from both Dodgers and Rays personnel. Both teams later on October 28 ultimately returned to their home markets from Texas, where the first-ever neutral-site World Series was held.

MLB’s statement seeks to pin all of the blame for the incident on Turner himself. But the league’s position ignores why other involved parties, including MLB itself and the Dodgers, also didn’t do more to keep Turner off the field or immediately send him back off upon his arrival. 

The timetable of Turner’s tests also raises additional serious questions. MLB learned around the second inning of Game 6 of the World Series on October 27 that Turner’s test from the prior day had returned as inconclusive, a not uncommon result that can be due to a contaminated sample or other external issues. Rather than treat that inconclusive result as a presumptive positive, MLB’s contracted lab ran an additional test on a sample of Turner’s from the 27th. A positive result from that sample arrived around the sixth inning of the game, and Turner was removed from play shortly thereafter.

It is not yet known whether the 35-year-old Turner, who has now filed to become a free agent, or the Dodgers will face discipline because of the incident, and such decisions will likely not arrive until after MLB’s investigation.

Following Game 6, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Freidman defended Turner’s presence on the field.

“We can’t state strongly enough how big a role [Turner] played for this organization. I don’t think there was anyone that was going to stop him from going out,” Freidman said.

Turner was the longest-tenured position player on the Dodgers and a popular figure both with fans and in the team’s clubhouse.

Turner’s positive test was the first for MLB in more than eight weeks, a period that significantly reversed a series of issues early in the 2020 schedule that nearly derailed the entire season.