Play Ball! Or Maybe Not....

July 3rd was supposed to be a great day for baseball fans all across the globe. With COVID-19 wrecking havoc throughout the athletic world, people who have been quarantined and isolated from the enjoyments of everyday life finally had something to look forward to - a date to circle on their calendars that felt like a semi-return to normalcy for a life that has felt far from it. As I followed the players strolling into camp throughout the course of the day, and over the weekend, I was overtaken by the excitement that has encompassed me every spring for the past 30 years, but in the back of my mind as the news and quotes started to come in, the angst that has consumed our collective minds for the past 7 months began to overtake my hope and joy.

What are we doing here exactly? As Sean Doolittle put it:


Doolittle went on to ask fans to do their part, and wear a mask, but we've had 5 months of data and action that shows that far too many people refuse to do just that. According to a representative survey done by the CDC in June, only 60% of American's say they wear a mask despite many studies showing a significant benefit. If we cannot perform the simplest task to protect our fellow citizens, what rewards do we really deserve?

Back to Doolittle's first quote; "Sport's are the reward of a functioning society." A society like, let's say, South Korea; they got hit hard with the virus around the same time as the USA, but have reduced their daily new cases total from a peak of 900 down to 60. Korea has a population density of 527 people per sq/km, more than 15 times that of the USA. While the Nation's size makes it easier to trace the virus, the density makes it significantly harder to contain it. Despite all of that, South Korea was able to resume baseball on May 5th, 2020 with one rule: If anyone tests positive, we shut the whole thing down. Why? Because safety comes first, and entertainment second; but also, because South Korea did what it had to as a nation, collectively, much sooner. They were being rewarded for being a functioning society, and they didn't need to sacrifice anyone to get there.

This morning, news began to trickle in that MLB was not living up to its end of the bargain, and players did not feel safe.



Kris Bryant wasn't happy, and who can blame him given the fact that teammates Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester are examples of players who are taking on more risk than some due to their past bouts with Cancer.



That's not to say everyone doesn't carry some innate risk in this entire process and deserve to be protected, but I believe that the assumption was always that the most vulnerable would be protected first, and the game would come second. We're three days into camp and that very idea has been disproved by a lack of organization, structure and proper action by MLB to test and protect their employees first and foremost.

But is this failure by MLB really surprising to anyone who has been following along? Over the course of the past 4 months, Major League Baseball has exuded an attitude of contempt against not just the athletes that play the game, but the fans that support it. The owners and Commissioner Manfred purposely spent month after month delaying the process by proposing the same financial offer repackaged in different wrapping paper, all while leaking PR hit piece after hit piece misrepresenting the Players Union as greedy prima donnas, who didn't want to play baseball. In the meantime, Ownership was treating fans like mindless sheep while pitching them the most tone deaf nonsense possible during a global pandemic with true unemployment rates pushing 14%. Cardinals Owner Bill Dewitt Jr opened his mouth and said the following without a hint of sarcasm, "The industry really isn't that profitable, to be honest." In 1995, Bill Dewitt Jr bought the St. Louis Cardinals for 150 million dollars; today, they are worth 2.2 Billion Dollars according to Forbes, which comes out to a "not that profitable" annual compound interest rate of roughly 11.5% over the 25 years of ownership. DeWitt made more money owning the Cardinals in twenty five years than the average income of 32,447 American Households over the course of a year, or 759 Americans combined earnings over the course of their lifetimes.

Baseball's history is as troubled as the nation that invented it, but those in charge of the game have never cared less about it and the cities they represent than they do today. Baseball has bred a culture of entitlement among ownership groups over the past few decades; a belief that these businesses are money printing monopolies, that assume no risk of loss or failure. They have reaped the benefits of public funding, under the guise of "community benefits and revenue growth", for new stadiums and revenue centers, and as the game's revenues have nearly doubled in the past 10 years, the exploitation of Young Latin American and Minor-League players has never been more rampant. Manfred and Ownership groups have spent the past few years lobbying and pushing for the elimination of up to 42 MiLB teams, and with some help from the Pandemic it looks like their hopes and wishes are going to become a reality.

Minor League Baseball is the lifeblood of many small communities, and for some it is their only exposure to baseball. In an industry that continues to set record revenues, it's hard to fathom a valid reason to decrease the amount of baseball being played anywhere. Minor League baseball teams represent the small businesses fighting to survive throughout the nation - the businesses that aren't exempt from hardships and pandemics, and what Rob Manfred and MLB owners have shown us over the past couple months is they don't care about them. When baseball had an opportunity to heal and lead by example, it resorted to profits and greed. When it had a chance to protect its players at all costs, it cut corners and put them at unnecessary risk. I'll never forget when MLB told fans that Mark Cuban wasn't fit to be an owner; he didn't have the integrity of a Frank McCourt, or the class of a Jeffrey Loria, but what they really meant was they were concerned that they could not silence him, because MLB ownership is one unified group of collusion masquerading as 32 independent owners.

I love the game of baseball, and I wish those in charge of the game shared that same passion. While business and sports have always been intertwined, the desire to win wasn't always overcome by the desire to profit. While players were fighting for workers right's and fair treatment and safety during a pandemic, and the average person has been fighting to keep their jobs, safety and livelihood, Major League Baseball has been fighting for their right to never lose money, after decade upon decade of endless profits. The next time baseball talks about its local economic impact while pitching a city for local taxpayer funding, remind them of the time they turned their back on the communities, their employees, and their fans when they had a chance to lead by example.

If one person tests positive in South Korea, they decided they don't deserve baseball. MLB was more than satisfied with 1.2% of players testing positive, and as their lack of testing has already proven since, they are not dedicated or committed to the safety of their employees, and they don't deserve baseball.

If baseball is the reward for a functioning society, we deserve snail races in the dark.

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© 2020 by Erik Johnson