LOS ANGELES — Major League Baseball on Friday announced that it will not discipline Justin Turner for returning to the field to celebrate the Dodgers winning the World Series after testing positive for the coronavirus.
MLB initially placed blame solely on Turner in a statement released the day after the Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays for their first championship in 32 years, asserting that "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."
The league struck a different tone Friday, nine days after issuing its pointed opinion on the matter. Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement did not absolve Turner from responsibility following a league investigation, but cited decisions made by others, including league officials, that led to Turner leaving isolation to spend time on the field with the team and families.
Turner also issued a statement Friday recounting the events, describing his thought process in the moment, and apologizing for his decision.
"I asked whether I was permitted to return to the field with my wife in order to take a photograph," Turner's statement read. "I assumed by that point that few people were left on the field. I was under the impression that team officials did not object to my returning to the field for a picture with my wife. However, what was intended to be a photo capturing the two of us turned into several greetings and photos where I briefly and unwisely removed my mask.
"In hindsight, I should have waited until the field was clear of others to take that photo with my wife. I sincerely apologize to everyone on the field for failing to appreciate the risks of returning to the field. I have spoken with almost every teammate, coach, and staff member, and my intentions were never to make anyone uncomfortable or put anyone at further risk."
Turner was removed from Game 6 of the World Series in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers six outs away from winning the championship at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. He was placed in isolation for the remainder for game. He missed the beginning of the team's celebration, including the trophy presentation.
He tweeted that he didn't feel any symptoms and that he couldn't believe he wasn't on the field to celebrate from the doctor's office in the back of the Dodgers' clubhouse where he and his wife were isolated.
MLB said teammates then "actively encouraged" Turner to return to the field for the team photograph. Turner, according to Manfred's statement, said he believed he received permission to emerge for the photo from "at least one" Dodgers employee. "At least two" Dodgers employees didn't intercept Turner as he walked onto the field. Manfred said those individuals acknowledged that not trying to stop Turner gave him the impression it wasn't a problem.
On the field, according to Manfred, "an unidentified person" told Turner that other players had tested positive for coronavirus, causing Turner to believe he was being "singled out for isolation."
"Finally, Major League Baseball could have handled the situation more effectively," Manfred's retelling concluded. "For example, in retrospect, a security person should have been assigned to monitor Mr. Turner when he was asked to isolate, and Mr. Turner should have been transported from the stadium to the hotel more promptly."
The league's health and safety protocols for the 2020 season stipulated that when a team is informed of a positive test while a player is at a ballpark, the player must "immediately isolate himself" within the ballpark.
But Turner returned to the field about an hour after the game alongside his wife, Kourtney, and posed for photos near the pitcher's mound holding the championship trophy.
He initially kept his mask on. He walked around the infield, embracing teammates and shaking hands, before sitting in the front row for the team photo and removing his mask. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took a seat next to Turner, also without a mask on.
Turner lingered on the field for a few more minutes with his face uncovered. He spoke with Dodgers president Andrew Friedman, who had removed his mask for the team photos but put it back on, near the first-base line. Turner and his wife took a photo together with the trophy and walked off the field.
"The events involving Justin Turner during the World Series celebration unfolded rapidly and chaotically, and were ultimately regrettable," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a statement. "The Dodger organization takes the health and safety of everyone associated with staging a baseball game extraordinarily seriously, and are committed to putting in place better processes for future events."
Turner signed with the Dodgers before the 2014 season as a non-roster invite to spring training after the New York Mets declined to offer him a contract. He arrived as a utility player hoping for a roster spot as a bench player. Instead, over the next seven seasons, he became an instrumental player and clubhouse leader.
In July, the 35-year-old third baseman took charge in persuading teammates to follow the league's protocols after a coronavirus outbreak nearly derailed the Miami Marlins.
On the field, he batted .307 with an .860 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 42 games in the regular season before hitting .250 with three home runs and six doubles in 18 playoff games.
Turner, however, may have played his final game as a Dodger. His four-year contract expired the day after the World Series as his actions after Game 6 were being dissected and scrutinized. Turner stayed silent until Friday. Wherever he plays in 2021, he won't face a suspension. Whether that's in Los Angeles remains to be seen.
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