In the words of the great Chris ‘Boomer’ Berman, baseball is ‘back back back’. After endless weeks of uncertainty, the MLB announced Tuesday night that it will return in July for a 60-game season. After so much COVID-19 and civil unrest, what better medicine than America’s pastime?
Baseball has long been a great healer. In the Civil War, soldiers on both sides played baseball to distract themselves from the emotional toll of the bloody battles at hand. Hundreds of professional players served in both world wars. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the city rallied around the Red Sox, who delivered a World Series later that year. Similarly, the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series just weeks after Hurricane Harvey wrecked its city.
Perhaps the MLB has another movie-script season ready to unite America during a historic crisis. Sadly, after a troubling few months of its own, that seems unlikely.
Reports began to surface late last year that the Houston Astros had been cheating using a camera in center field. The players in the dugout would then allegedly read the catcher’s signs and banged on trash cans to warn the team’s hitter what pitch is coming next. Fans and opposing teams were outraged at the news, which continued to develop into the beginning of spring training before the season was delayed due to COVID-19. No players were suspended despite the reports.
This has been an ongoing theme in the modern MLB. While early professional baseball leagues in the late 19th century and the early 20th century were dominated by racist and greedy owners, today, it’s dominated by the players union. Unlike any other major sports league, MLB players make guaranteed money. With the league losing money due to the COVID-induced delay of the season, owners asked players to take a cut for fewer games of play. The union played tough — extending negotiations months in what became a full-fledged labor war.
The rot doesn’t end there. World Series ratings have steadily declined since the 1970s, putting baseball’s role in American history in jeopardy. The league has failed to expand its fanbase in past decades while managing to outrage its most loyal fans in recent months. As the expanding NBA is set to resume in late July and the dominant NFL to return in September, the MLB’s short season may struggle to keep up.
‘I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,’ FDR famously wrote in his ‘Green Light Letter’ during World War Two. Fast-forward nearly 80 years and it’s unclear if the American people feel the same.