Baseball spring training is upon us. The regular season starts on April 2nd and fans are happily blasting John Fogerty’s song, “Centerfield.” Baseball is not referred to as our “national pastime” for nothing. It is a sport that rises above all others because it has moments that stand alone. Of the four major sports—baseball, football, hockey and basketball (even if you want to include soccer)—only baseball is played without a clock. Critics say this makes the sport slow. It’s not slow. It is deliberate. And no team is out of it because time is ticking away. In baseball, the game is not over until the last man is out.
Baseball is also an institution that has largely remained free of politics. To most fans, that is a good thing. We live in a culture where politics permeates everything we do. It’s difficult to get away from politics, but when I turn on a game to watch the Yankees (or any game for that matter), I know that I am going to be politics-free for several hours.
So why do some people insist baseball should become political? At ESPN, senior writer Jayson Stark wrote the following:
Welcome to baseball in 2017, a year like no other in our nation. In the NBA, coaches and stars take regular aim at the policies of the new president of the United States, from the executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries to plans for building a massive wall along the Mexican border. But in Major League Baseball—where locker rooms feature a multicultural melting pot of athletes, many of whom could be directly or indirectly affected by those policies—what you hear (or don’t hear) is the careful sound of political silence.
To this I say, “So what?” Stark, on the other hand, appears to be disappointed.
He even allows Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet The Press, to opine. Here is what Todd had to say:
“Baseball has an opportunity to heal the country, because of the political, ethnic and racial diversity in its locker room. No other sport has that. So it can either hide in a corner and pretend nothing is happening—and baseball becomes America’s distraction—or maybe we’ll see some leadership . . . where some players who politically disagree get together and say, ‘This is way too tense.'”
One has to wonder, why is 2017 different from 2012 or 2014? Were we a united country then? Not at all. The country was just as divided and required the same “healing” Todd claims is needed now. The only difference is who occupies the White House. Stark wasn’t writing columns bemoaning the lack of political participation by Major League Baseball a year ago, and I cannot recall the nation basking in peace and love for one another. That Stark and Todd are actively advocating for political participation from MLB now is telling.
If players choose to speak out about an issue, that is up to them. However, players must also understand they are part of a team. Should they comment on a subject, be it from a conservative or liberal point of view, they should be aware their teammates will likely get quizzed on it. “Hey what do you think about what so-and-so said about such-and-such?” If Major League Baseball dives head first into politics, it won’t be long before players are asked not about a win or loss, but rather called upon to offer their view of President Donald Trump’s latest tweetstorm. Politics will become intertwined with baseball, to the detriment of the game.
With the exception of the historic moment when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the only time baseball mixed with politics was following the 9/11 attacks. Baseball, during the World Series that year, became a symbol of healing in our nation. There were no divisions. The country was united. When President George W. Bush strode out to the pitcher’s mound at Yankees Stadium on October 30, 2001, there were no Republicans or Democrats. There were no conservatives or liberals. Political divisions went out the window, and when the President threw out the first pitch for a strike, baseball fans everywhere forgot all about the horrific events that had taken place less than 60 days before.
At that moment, baseball transcended politics. For the betterment of the sport, as well as the players and the fans, it should remain that way.