Quantcast

COLUMN

Baseball can't lose its standing in these difficult times

An empty Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, home of the Chicago White Sox, on Friday, May 8, 2020.

TNS

By MICHAEL ARACE | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: May 26, 2020

Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — In 1845, the "Knickerbocker Rules" were accepted in the New York metropolitan area and baseball began taking shape as the game we recognize today. During the Civil War, Union soldiers from the northeastern part of the country introduced the sport to the South and West.

The war, according to the Museum of American History and the American Battlefield trust, among myriad sources, was the integral accelerator to the game's popularity. Baseball was well-entrenched as "America's pastime" by the dawn of the 20th century.

In the first year of the third decade of the 21st century, the country — and the world — is in the midst of a global pandemic. As of Memorial Day, the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University had counted more than 1.65 million confirmed cases and nearly 98,000 deaths in the United States. We lead the world in both categories, and it isn't even close.

On Tuesday, representatives for major league baseball owners and the players union are expected to rejoin negotiations in their effort to restart the game. Baseball may no longer be America's pastime, but during times like these — when an invisible menace has shuttered the country, the unemployment rate is approaching Great Depression levels and people are hurting — its symbolic power, imbued in its history, may be greater than all other sports combined.

Indeed, if sports are a part of our body politic, then baseball remains at the heart of it. The White House has made public pronouncements about the executive branch's desire to restart pro sports as a mechanism to reintroduce a semblance of normalcy. President Donald Trump, who batted .138 over three seasons at New York Military Academy, is particularly keen to get baseball going, preferably over the July 4 holiday, wrapped in the flag.

MLB made public last week a 67-page document outlining its proposed safety guidelines. The report is thorough. They seem to have thought of everything, from empty stadiums down to the safe handling of rosin bags.

Still, it was not a good week for the game. Owners, who previously pitched prorated salaries on player contracts, had a thought of switching to a 50/50 revenue split. Union members dismissed any such thought. The union has for generations fought labor wars to keep salary caps out of their system, and they are not about to backtrack now.

Given the vagaries of modern social media, all of this turned into a public relations nightmare, for both sides. As working-class Americans worry about their health, their insurance, their jobs and their children, once again the billionaire owners were arguing with millionaire players about how to split huge piles of money.

We'll know more as the week goes along. Reportedly, owners are offering modifications that will, in theory, go a ways toward appeasing the players, who will certainly counter with their own tweaks. Perhaps the twain shall meet.

If the season is canceled over worries about returning too soon before it is yet safe enough, that is legitimate and acceptable. If they blow everything off because of the money, well, shame on them. They should volunteer at a food bank.

It is a myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball one day when he visited Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. It is not a myth that Doubleday served as an officer at Fort Sumter and that he went on to command a division in the Army of the Potomac — and that the Army of the Potomac played baseball on its off days.

A number of minor leagues shut down after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. The major leagues shortened the 1918 regular season, ending it on Labor Day.

Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series that year. They rolled into Fenway Park for Games 4-6 at the very moment when the second wave of the Spanish flu — a much deadlier version — appeared in Boston.

The second wave had its origins at the Boston Navy Yard and nearby Fort Devens, and spread as sailors and soldiers were mustered out. It's a good thing the Red Sox wrapped it up in six games. Ruth got out just in the nick of time.

Ty Cobb and Christie Mathewson served in the Chemical Service of the U.S. Army under Branch Rickey. Cobb may be the greatest player ever. Mathewson may be the greatest pitcher ever. And all Rickey did was invent the farm system, arrange for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier and develop the ideas of parity that are at the core of all modern professional sports enterprises.

This little bit of WWI baseball history is not germane to anything — but, dang, it makes the Chemical Service sound almost alluring. In retrospect. Or maybe not.

The 1941 baseball winter meetings began on Dec. 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. A month later, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote President Franklin Roosevelt to ask whether baseball should be shut down.

FDR responded with the "Green Light Letter." He wrote: "I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."

What to do now? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Be careful.

marace@dispatch.com

©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

from around the web