As American as Baseball and I want My Piece of the Pie
The smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs sizzling on a grill, and the leather of a well-worn baseball glove can transport me, along with many Americans, back to the days of our childhoods and remind us of our eternal love for the game of baseball. However, this year those smells have been tainted with a stench that perhaps we all knew existed, but conveniently ignored so as not to spoil our idyllic image of our national pastime. This week began the first full week of Major League Baseball’s 2020 shortened 60-game season.
Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, on March 12, Major League Baseball canceled spring training and postponed the season’s start for two weeks; a move that was widely seen as optimistic at best. Subsequently, several teams reported players and staff testing positive for the virus, training camps were shut down, the Baseball World Classic was cancelled, and MLB continued to push opening day farther and farther out. Some might have assumed this might be the year without baseball. However, MLB would persist and for the love of the game, for the good of the country, and for the goal of bringing back some sort of normalcy to Americans, MLB announced that opening day would take place on July 23rd. Unfortunately, these rationalizations sound as genuine as the faux fan sounds being piped into baseball stadiums around the country.
Yes, there is certainly some validity to those idealistic and comforting reasons to start baseball again, especially amid this devastating pandemic. After all, there is nothing more American than baseball — — or is there? As an avid New York Mets fan of course I was ecstatic to hear that baseball was back. But it sickened me to see the billionaire team owners’ squabble over money with the millionaire ball players negotiating how to divide up the pie of the billion-dollar baseball business. And regardless of whose side you are on, the players, the owners, or neither, there is one thing that is for sure, there is something inherently flawed with a system where a small group of wealthy individuals fight over their piece of the pie. But perhaps this too is as American as apple pie. In the end, of course, those that suffer are the fans, minor league players, MLB employees, souvenir and concession stand workers, parking lot attendees, and the slew of other people who depend on baseball for their livelihood.
What has also suffered is the integrity of the game. A watered-down season of 60-games with diluted teams who are missing critical players who have either tested positive for the coronavirus or have chosen, understandably, to opt out of playing, has made the game a band-aid on a more serious problem. Placing a runner on second base at the start of the 10th inning and introducing the designated hitter in the national league will certainly help to get the teams off the field sooner and perhaps could reduce the spread of the virus. Eliminating commercials between the top and the bottom of the innings could also accomplish the same thing without impacting the purity of the game. However, MLB prefers to pull threads from the fabric of the game rather than reduce revenue and all in a desperate attempt to get this season going. Just yesterday several games have been canceled due to over 14 Florida Marlins players contracting the virus. The season marches on and so it seems they are also willing to do whatever it takes to finish the season.
When MLB announced that opening day would be postponed, certainly, I was disappointed that I would miss attending my 19th Mets home opener in a row. Yes, I wanted to see baseball again but at what cost and for what purpose? While people struggle to get tested and the country debates sending children back to school in the fall, MLB continues to test their players on a regular basis so they can continue receiving television revenue and play baseball. Last night I heard a prominent sports personality, casually explain away the disparity, reasoning that MLB resources were paying for private medical consultants to test the players and they were not coming from doctors and nurses in hospitals. But aren’t we as Americans — — as human beings, all on the same team? If you want to understand what a people value, look at where they spend their money. The people in this country who can’t get tested are the ones wearing MLB team jerseys. The students and teachers who are risking their lives and going back to school in the fall are the ones that buy the team baseball caps and tickets to the games. They have been devoted fans of the game. Instead of starting the baseball season this year, perhaps MLB should have started playing ball with their fans.