Chicago Cubs: Baseball faces another major threat in Omicron

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The sports world has been brought to its knees once more by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While fans still attend NFL and NBA games in droves, the Omicron variant is raging, cutting through teams and postponing games like no tomorrow. For the Chicago Cubs, and baseball as a whole, this new strain represents a serious hurdle heading into the 2022 season.

While MLB’s current concern is solving the ongoing labor dispute, there’s no doubt that this upcoming season will certainly be hampered by the pandemic. Over in the NFL, 96 players were added to the COVID reserve list on Monday alone, setting a record for cases in a single day. The NBA isn’t fairing much better, with a staggering 116 players undergoing COVID protocols. In the words of Caleb Martin of the Miami Heat, outbreaks seem “inevitable.”

The kicker for MLB is the vaccination rate. Over 94 percent of NFL players are considered fully vaccinated while the NBA managed a 97 percent rate. All quite respectable. MLB though? Still lagging behind at around the 85 percent mark with some teams, including the Cubs, still failing to hit that crucial 85 percent team threshold at the time of the last reports.

MLB was able to avoid many major, landscape-shifting outbreaks last year, but it was already a problem. The Cubs had their own outbreak right before the end of the season after managing so well in 2020. Now, approaching a season with a far more contagious variant and a league that has underperformed on the vaccine front, it seems like the perfect storm for disaster.

Omicron will postpone games and affect the Chicago Cubs season at this rate

It’s not just about competitive advantage anymore. Baseball will be asking fans to deal with postponed games and constant sickness from their teams at this rate on top of the ongoing labor strife that threatens spring training and potentially the start of the regular season. For a league that poorly adjusted to the pandemic in the first place, that’s a lot to weather and public perception is already hitting an all-time low.

Most importantly of all, though, is player, staff, and fan safety. If the NFL and NBA are any indications, fans are over the pandemic and ready to come back out to games. In regards to the players and those working with them, there are harrowing stories of their battles with COVID. Tommy Hottovy lost 20 pounds and nearly ended up on a ventilator. Freddie Freeman suffered from a 104.5-degree fever and feared for his life. Yoan Moncada suffered from long-haul effects throughout 2020.

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I doubt baseball, as a whole, will stop again for the pandemic. We’ve crossed the Rubicon on that front. However, the Cubs, and all of MLB, will face a period of infection that they really haven’t played through before. It will take increased scrutiny from the league, teams and players to ensure the integrity of the sport and the safety of all involved is preserved to the best of their ability. I fear for their ability to meet this challenge.