Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner will not be disciplined for returning to the field to celebrate his team’s championship despite testing positive for COVID-19. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued a lengthy statement on Friday — alongside one from Turner and another from Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten — in which he outlined the findings of an investigation and also took partial responsibility.
“We all have made mistakes as we navigated these unprecedented challenges and have tried to learn from those mistakes so they are not repeated,” Manfred wrote. “With this in mind, I am closing this matter by applauding Justin for accepting responsibility, apologizing and making a commitment to set a positive example going forward.”
The Dodgers were informed in the late stages of World Series Game 6 on Oct. 27 that Turner’s previously inconclusive test had returned positive, prompting his removal to begin the eighth inning. His wife, Kourtney, was also removed from the family section at Globe Life Field. Turner wrote that he was “blindsided” by the news and that the two watched the final two innings from a television inside a doctor’s office in the back of the clubhouse. Moments after the Dodgers sealed their title-clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, Turner asked if he could return to the field with his wife for a photo.
“I assumed by that point that few people were left on the field,” Turner wrote. “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.”
Manfred said teammates “actively encouraged” Turner to leave his isolation room and return to the field, adding that “many teammates felt they had already been exposed” and were willing to tolerate additional risk. Manfred’s statement also said Turner believed he received permission from at least one Dodgers employee and that an unidentified person incorrectly told him other teammates had tested positive, “creating the impression in Mr. Turner’s mind that he was being singled out for isolation.”
MLB previously chided Turner for breaking protocol, adding that Turner “emphatically refused to comply” when asked to leave the field. But Manfred acknowledged Friday that the league “could have handled the situation more effectively” by assigning a security person to closely monitor Turner and quickly transporting him to the team hotel.
“Mr. Turner has publicly recognized that his conduct was wrong and has expressed remorse for that conduct,” Manfred wrote, while also revealing that MLB’s testing lab in Utah will be used to provide testing for underserved communities during the offseason. “I have spoken to him personally and I know that he is extraordinarily upset by the incident. By all accounts, Justin is a leader in the clubhouse, a contributor to his community and a responsible person who was instrumental in the Dodgers diligently following the health protocols all season long.”
Turner, 35, publicly criticized Manfred during the first version of spring training for referring to the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal” in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. After the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the season, Turner, serving as the Dodgers’ player rep, then spent several weeks immersed in protracted, oftentimes-bitter negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players’ Association. When the season finally resumed and outbreaks on other teams threatened its sustainability, Turner helped to tighten the protocols within the Dodgers’ clubhouse and served as a critical voice for holding players accountable.
“Justin’s leadership played a large part in helping the Dodgers safely complete the entire season, which culminated in a world championship,” Kasten wrote in his statement. “While the events following the conclusion of the World Series were unfortunate, there is no question about who Justin Turner is and what he means to his teammates, the Dodger organization and the City of Los Angeles.”
Originally obtained through a minor league contract in February of 2014, Turner established himself as one of the game’s most productive third basemen and became one of the most important members of the Dodgers over these last seven years, setting the tone for their hitting philosophy and emerging as one of their key leaders. During that time, Turner — a Lakewood, California, product who grew up a Dodgers fan — has also taken an active role in the community. This World Series, which saw him post a 1.066 OPS while helping the Dodgers win their first championship in 32 years, was supposed to be his crowning achievement — accomplished right before he ventures into the free-agent market.
One positive test and a series of bad decisions has somewhat tarnished that. Turner wasn’t on the field for the initial celebration, but came in later. He initially kept his mask on and shared a long embrace with Kenley Jansen, who tested positive for COVID-19 during the shutdown and experienced prolonged symptoms. He then took a team photo without his mask alongside Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who was previously diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
After the game, several Dodgers players expressed disappointment that Turner couldn’t be on the field with them.
“To have that happen to a guy like that, a dude that’s reinvented himself when he came here, what he’s meant to this organization, what he’s meant to this franchise, what he’s meant to this community, and to take that away from him — it’s gut-wrenching, it hurts me,” Corey Seager, the World Series MVP, said. “I can’t imagine how he feels. If I could switch places with him right now, I would because that man more than anybody deserves to take a picture with that trophy, celebrate with us, have his family around and enjoy this moment, and that got taken away from him and that’s not right. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
Nasal swabs were conducted for members of the Dodgers and Rays the night after the game and the following morning, with only a Rays family member testing positive for COVID-19. Both teams flew back to their respective cities later that afternoon. Turner did not provide an update on his condition in his statement. His agent, Greg Genske, did not immediately respond to an inquiry on the matter.
As part of his statement, Manfred revealed that the testing lab in Utah that MLB utilized throughout the season will now be used for “performing testing in underserved areas in the communities we call home.”