As we’re all aware, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented disruption in our modern society. The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 is prematurely ending the lives of some and upending the lives of all. I was supposed to be handing out grades for the American League teams’ offseasons, but that seems like a pretty ridiculous activity right about now. I will be resuming that ridiculousness soon, because that is what we, as humans, are supposed to do. Not just yet (although I will offer a titillating preview and suggest that the Astros’ grade might not be particularly great).
A little over a week ago (when I was handing out NL postseason grades), we lived in a seemingly different world. MLB was continuing to hold Spring Training games and putting off making a decision about what was going to happen. In an instant though, things changed, and Commissioner Rob Manfred followed on the heels of the NBA, announcing that MLB was delaying the start to its season. Now there’s been a second delay, pushing things to mid-May, although that schedule doesn’t account for the fact that players will need further spring training to get ready for a shortened season.
Although the tide seems to be shifting, some folks are still upset about this, although they shouldn’t be. When I started covering baseball for RealGM, I was living in Switzerland, an hour north of Milan, ground zero for the COVID-19 outbreak in the Western world. From the Italians that I know, cancelled baseball games are the least of our worries. There’s clearly an art to finding the sweet spot between overreacting and underreacting. One thing was absolutely clear from pretty early on, though, and that’s that events where many, many people gather to share in their love of sport but also potentially share a disease that could kill the more vulnerable among us is a pretty terrible idea.
The decisions being made are complex, and involve ramifications that extend well beyond the fact that you won’t have baseball games to watch if you’re quarantined or just practicing social distancing for an extended period of time. There are economic issues that we’re all aware of, and unfortunately those issues led leagues to make decisions that might not be in the best interest of their fans and players. There are also social justice issues that we as a society can’t ignore right now just because we’re facing something we’ve personally never experienced before. Turns out sports, and baseball, are the microcosm we acted like they were all along.
As so many folks in the service industry, the gig economy and elsewhere grapple with the economic ramifications of society temporarily shutting down, gameday staff at ballparks are potentially being left in the lurch, wondering whether they’re going to receive the income they may rely on for their day-to-day livelihoods.
There are the questions that apply to society’s more privileged members. Those with sick and family leave policies wonder about how those benefits will play out in these uncharted territories. For players who have reached the majors, they’re worrying about how a shortened season will affect service time considerations, pay and more. These aren’t questions without merit, far from it, but these are far more trying times for minor leaguers, who exist in a precarious position during the best of times. A virus is an unthinking nemesis that doesn’t care who it infects, be it a multimillionaire superstar or someone selling you a hotdog.
In a time of collective anxiety, it’s important to remember that, while we may have different views on everything from the political candidates we back, the teams we root for or even whether we prefer dogs or cats, we’re ultimately all stuck on this planet together and we need to take care of each other. Baseball will be back, and we’ll hopefully see a return to semi-normalcy soon. But for now, let’s do what we can for each other. If you can help out someone who needs it, just do it. At the very least, send your team an email suggesting they take care of their own. We’ll all get through this, and I’ll be back soon with some sign-stealing jokes and the like soon. In the meantime, fire up some highlights and remember that we can come out of this crap better on the other side, even if we get less baseball games in 2020.