Being the general manager of a major-league baseball team is an enormous undertaking.
You are in charge of the big-league roster and a half dozen or so minor-league teams. You are generally in charge of hiring and firing the coaches, of directing a staff of scouts on how to find talent coast to coast and around the globe. You must know whose slumps can be explained by a rough patch at home and whose might require an outside fix, and monitor targets on other teams.
You must communicate and negotiate with both ownership and the coaching staff, and you are in charge of a thousand other things that might screw up your day before you go to bed hoping you’re not woken up with bad news about one of your players.
You do not, generally, need to worry about your championship hopes being possibly derailed by what most of us think of as a kid’s disease from a generation ago.
“My initial reaction,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore says, “was it’s 2015 and I’m surprised that we’d be having chickenpox.”
The latest bizarre turn in the Royals’ resurgence came on Tuesday, a few hours before Johnny Cueto pitched against Justin Verlander, with the news that there had been a chickenpox outbreak in the clubhouse.
Alex Rios and Kelvin Herrera are infected, and now quarantined, out for up to two weeks. Much of the rest of the Royals’ roster and support staff went through a nervous few days of calling home to see if they had chickenpox as a kid.
There are other factors, sure, and the Royals had been monitoring Jonny Gomes anyway, but they probably would not have made that trade without the chickenpox, which is a strange thing to write.
Inside the organization, those who had not had the disease as children received a shot, and now the team is crossing its fingers. That’s not a metaphor, either. Danny Duffy literally walked through the Royals’ clubhouse on Tuesday with the first two fingers on his right hand crossed when he was asked how he felt.
“Hope I don’t get it,” Duffy said.
A chickenpox outbreak is not unprecedented — talk to someone in the business, and it’s likely they can think of a couple — but it’s rare enough that no one is quite sure how to react.
Frustration? You bet. Herrera is the Royals’ second-best reliever at the moment, and the bullpen is overworked as it is. Rios had been trending up — hitting .424 in his last nine games — and the Royals wanted to further gauge how much they could trust him in the playoffs.
Exasperation? Absolutely. Alex Gordon returned from that groin injury, a few days ahead of the original eight-week projection, and the Royals had hoped their health concerns were behind them.
Anger? Yeah, at least in the beginning, and at least a little. When something like this happens — an eight-figure investment and an All-Star reliever out with a disease that American schoolkids are now inoculated for — you want someone to blame.
Why didn’t these guys get the shots earlier? Shouldn’t the team require it?
In a perfect world, sure, perhaps, and going forward this is something the Royals will have to at least consider. Yahoo reported that one baseball team has prioritized vaccinations in recent years.
But blaming the Royals for negligence here means believing a long list of circumstances that are dishonest to assume. It also presents a slippery slope of medical questions, all over a freak breakout that no one could have reasonably predicted.
The Royals are very careful about the health of their players. The air in their clubhouse is filtered in a way that helps prevent disease. The training staff is considered one of the strongest in baseball.
And this still happened.
“It’s crazy,” Eric Hosmer says.
“It’s really crazy,” Sal Perez says.
As if combating freak occurrence with happenstance, Alcides Escobar was inoculated about 10 days ago while going through his American citizenship process. Assuming he does not show symptoms, it’s quite possible that applying for citizenship kept Escobar clear.
Chickenpox is a serious disease, particularly for adults. The Royals chartered planes, rather than let Rios and Herrera fly commercial back to Kansas City. The hope is that both players are healthy and at full strength soon, but really, nobody knows for sure.
There is also the lingering fear that more players or staff have been infected, but have yet to show symptoms. That process can take up to three weeks from initial exposure so, really, we are dealing with a series of unknowns.
This should be a relatively calm time for the Royals. They have earned a 13 game lead in the division, and a 6½ game lead for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs entering Tuesday’s games.
Their biggest baseball concerns should be getting Greg Holland back to form, making sure the rest of the bullpen is as strong as possible, and watching Alex Gordon get his big league timing back.
Instead, the talk around the team sounds like a press conference at the Centers for Disease Control.
The baseball season is long enough that some wild turns are inevitable, but this Royals’ season has included more than its fair share. The April heel turn. The 50-man brawl in Chicago. The Brett Lawrie Incident. The All-Star vote controversy. The opening day starter being demoted, but called back up before he got in the car because another starting pitcher’s elbow gave out. On and on.
There was some talk around the team that this could be seen as a lucky break. Better to have this happen on Aug. 28, than Sept. 28, and of course that is factually accurate. But it’s also something that no big league player or general manager expects to deal with, ever.
For this team, it’s just another in a long line.