By Sally Fahey

Philly billionaire Michael Rubin is doing what he can to fight the coronavirus.

Just days after his reported outrage helped turn around the Sixers (he’s a co-owner) decision to cut front office salaries, his Fanatics uniform company is transforming itself.

Fanatics, the company that manufactures uniforms for Major League Baseball, has suspended production on jerseys and is instead using the polyester mesh fabric to make masks and gowns for hospitals in Pennsylvania and nearby states.

Rubin, founder and executive chairman of Fanatics, was watching TV last week when he was struck by the idea to turn the 360,000-square-foot facility in Easton into a factory for the COVID-19 virus fight.

“We’re proud to partner with @MLB to support emergency personnel who are fighting against COVID-19 and face a need for masks and hospital gowns,” Rubin tweeted. “We’re utilizing our manufacturing plant in Easton, PA to make masks and gowns out of the same jersey fabric that the players wear”

While Rubin considered how he could make it happen, St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem reached out to Fanatics late last week about the possibility of the company manufacturing masks. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro each contacted Rubin over the weekend and told Rubin the state was in “dire need” of more masks and gowns.

Fanatics developed a prototype that was approved by the state’s emergency agency and by Tuesday the company halted production of all baseball jerseys.

Rubin, a limited ownership partner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, said he had the blessing of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to stop producing jerseys.

“‘We’ve got a million yards of fabric that we make these baseball uniforms from — what would you think if we take that fabric and make masks and gowns?'” Rubin told The Associated Press what he said to Manfred. “He immediately said, ‘Great. I want to do it immediately. The most important thing is we’ve got to help the heroes on the front line, and baseball can help play a role in it.'”

So with Manfred’s support, production on the $300 jerseys for Harper, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and the rest of baseball’s brightest stars was stopped. The company makes the uniforms for MLB and Nike.

Fanatics started fashioning masks and gowns on Tuesday, and Rubin hoped to produce nearly 15,000 masks and gowns a day. Rubin, whose Reform Alliance lobbies for changes to state probation and parole laws, said the demand was for 95% masks. The production plant had been shut down as a nonessential business, but about 100 workers have returned to work for Fanatics.

The company is making Level 1 masks, used for low-risk, nonsurgical procedures that are the accepted standard for surgical and procedural use.

Rubin said Wolf told Fanatics the state would pay for the masks and gowns. Rubin, though, said he spoke to Manfred, and Fanatics teamed with MLB to provide hospital uniforms at no cost to those in need in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Rubin, who has a net worth of $2.3 billion, according for Forbes, said it would cost Fanatics about $3 million to make the masks and gowns and the company would produce at least 1 million over the course of several months.

And if you are one of the few Phillies fans left who doesn’t have a Harper jersey but want one?

“I think we’ve got them, but I’m not 100% sure,” Rubin said with a laugh. “I know we can get a mask and a jersey made from one.”

There was a bit of a dust-up this week when the Devils and 76ers did an about-face on cutting salaries for employees making more than $100,000. A day after announcing the temporary 20% pay cuts because of the economics effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the teams’ co-owners rescinded them.

“As an organization, I don’t believe we got right up front,” Rubin said. “But I believe we got it right. I think people who know me, know I’m a transparent person. I believe when you get something wrong, you just kind of fix it. Ultimately, as an organization, we fixed it. I’m proud the organization came together and did the right thing by our employees. I think we’ll be rewarded by our employees who will feel we did the right thing. We got to the right place.”

But when it comes to Fanatics assisting in the coronavirus fight, Rubin added, “We’re less worried about manufacturing jerseys and more worried about just saving lives.”

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