At many of our most tumultuous times, Major League Baseball has helped guide us to a better place by the simple act of taking the field.
But what if the best way to lead now, with the world battling the coronavirus pandemic, starts with the even simpler act of not taking the field?
No harm results from discussions, and the proposal to hold the entire 2020 MLB season in Arizona, with no fans in the stands — a baseball biosphere of sorts — is only a discussion at this juncture. Yet as long as we’re discussing this topic, it’s time for Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, the owners and the players, to shift their message.
Forget about variations of “We’ll try to get in as many games as we can” or promotions of the game as chicken soup for our collectively bruised soul. Given the massive uncertainty defining this crisis, pivot to something like “We just don’t know what’s going to be possible. For now, we’re here to help.”
Actually, MLB took a strong step in that direction on Tuesday, releasing a statement which downplayed the Arizona plan and closed with this sentiment: “The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”
My Post colleague Joel Sherman, in his column on the Arizona idea, offered the plethora of logistical hurdles that would need to be leapt in order to turn this into a reality. It would represent a herculean task at a moment of weakness.
And to what end? When you conduct the cost-benefit analysis, you mark down “Some revenues, as opposed to no revenues” in the benefits column. Far be it from anyone, with so many businesses dying, to pooh-pooh that. And sure, sports, and especially baseball’s daily routine, can bring joy to our world.
Then you shift to costs, and we need to list only one to tilt the scale the other way: People’s health.
When you sign up for baseball, you accept the possibility of getting drilled in the head by a pitch or a comebacker, or even a foul ball if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. To participate in baseball this year, must you also concede the chance that you’ll catch an infectious disease because you slid into home plate? Or that you’ll pass it to an unsuspecting teammate, umpire, bus driver or hotel employee?
Does baseball, historically mindful and proud of its legacy, want to be remembered as behaving recklessly during a time when our leaders (or at least some of them) called for great caution?
So far, the commissioner’s office and the Players Association and their respective constituencies have behaved in exemplary fashion, donating considerable monies to take care of folks like hourly stadium workers and preaching the importance of staying at home and social distancing. Let’s hope they can keep that going through what might be a very long grind to come.
For this is not World War II, with no inherent risk to those who played and attended those contests while fighting occurred abroad, nor 9/11, when grieving, rather than surviving, served as our primary mission. This is an ongoing shared nightmare. If ballplayers and team employees get access to better medical care than most, they sure as heck can’t buy COVID-19 immunity.
The most effective way to ease the most people’s pain right now is literally with resources, not figuratively with the hope of baseball games. Those fortunate enough with the good health and time to seek out diversions must keep settling for classic replays.
Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig regularly called baseball “a social institution,” a nod to the sport’s impactful role in racial integration as well as its soothing and uniting effect amidst external turmoil. Maybe in a few months, the institution of baseball can resume its normal role. For where we stand now, though, baseball must adapt just as dramatically as the rest of us. To do otherwise would reject and insult its own legacy.