In its tone-deafness to this emergent moment in history, Major League Baseball has not only signaled its foolhardy and quixiotic intent to complete this season, it is also forfeiting its remaining sociocultural cache.
This is the worst possible moment for a suicide squeeze. But here we are, August 26, 2020, in the wake of yet another needless, senseless instance of excessive force from police against an African-American man, and most Major League Baseball teams are either playing or still scheduled to play. This, mere hours after the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks decided that they needed to take a stand and boycott their playoff game, a move that led to the postponement of all NBA contests Wednesday.
The Milwaukee Brewers followed suit, opting to forfeit their contest to the Cincinnati Reds, who refused to accept the forfeit, standing in solidarity with their division foes. For hours this afternoon, they were the only ones. The Dodgers-Giants and Mariners-Padres games were later postponed by players’ decision to sit out.
Kenosha, Wisconsin sits on the north end of the Wisconsin-Illinois border. The Dodgers’ Gavin Lux is from Kenosha, as is football’s Melvin Gordon. Orson Welles was born there. It’s equal parts its own city with its own sense of place and history as much as it is a bedroom community for both Milwaukee to the north and Chicago to the south. Because of its proximity to both, it historically belongs to neither. This is where Jacob Blake was shot seven times and tased on August 23.
The Bucks finally took action, a no-brainer considering what their own Sterling Brown endured at the hands of Milwaukee police in 2018. The Brewers decided — unanimously — to follow suit. MLB as a whole decided that Rob Manfred’s 60-game disgrace of a season was more important than reading the national room.
This is the same MLB that is all too willing to parade Jackie Robinson around every April 15 and retired his 42 leaguewide. This is the same MLB that exploded in national popularity once Robinson broke through the color barrier, the same MLB that brought us Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Oscar Gamble and his magnificent, helmet-defying afro. The same MLB that wraps itself around Ken Griffey Jr.‘s swing and smile and Ozzie Smith‘s backflips.
Which is to say this is no longer the same MLB.
Robinson’s reaction to 2020 would have been predictable outrage. He would have decried those actions as he decried Barry Goldwater’s fateful decision to hunt where the ducks are. As a Republican, he stood for the abolition of slavery and equal treatment of all Americans. The Republicans abandoned him in 1964, as they fully abandoned reality this year.
A month ago, I wrote about how I couldn’t participate in MLB’s season. Not now, not with a global health crisis, not with cities in ruin, not with so much open pain and suffering and rampant, blatant corruption, complacency. Sunday showed that police learned nothing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Wednesday showed that MLB was more interested in its bastard season than understanding what Jackie Robinson stood for and represented.
You need not be woke or have a particular political position to clearly see how badly reforms are needed with regard to American policing, and how cries for a return to normalcy are really just cries to have the morphine bag hooked back up to a culture drugged on entertainment. MLB leadership thought of their game as a reassuring return to the status quo and a state of affairs when people with light skin were happy and cell phone cameras weren’t ubiquitous. The mounting evidence of routine police malpractice, and people clamor for athletes to stay in their lane. They sang a different tune when the Gulf War erupted and Michael Jordan’s NBA helped galvanize the country, or when MLB and the NFL helped rally a nation in shock from 9/11.
MLB could have taken a Robinson-esque stand by not playing this year; by citing the national situation and health concerns, they could have said that baseball is not bigger than these extreme circumstances. They could have helped align the nation’s priorities and told its fans that once we have things sorted, we’ll play ball.
Instead, this is Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Mays — and Robinson — not answering the country’s call to service. A perverse un-reality fueled by dingers and strikeouts and major gaming concerns encroaching on the game in the name of sponsorship dollars. This was Manfred’s folly. It is now Manfred’s atrocity.
MLB runs the risk of forfeiting what little cultural cache it has left. With a bumper crop of impressive African-American players on the verge, it threatens to squander their ability to help restore a rich baseball legacy — Robinson, the Negro Leagues — with Black Americans, and to help grow the game again in general. Rob Manfred’s MLB continues to be utterly incapable of getting out of its own way, and its inaction Wednesday underscores that fact. There are real life and good public relations opportunities and they’re managing to whiff at both.
Baseball is the best sport on the planet, but even the best sport remains mere entertainment. Entertainment remains inessential, particularly when nearly two full Kenoshas have died courtesy a highly-contagious virus and Black men and women have been wrongfully and shamelessly butchered by dreadfully incompetent if not bigoted members of law enforcement. The Bucks and Brewers deserve credit for rallying behind and standing with a community in pain and rightly pointing our attention to glaring systemic issues that need critical attention and reform. They’re not hiding behind a man’s courage 75 years ago. They’re standing out right now when it matters. And it certainly does matter.
This is no time for games. The Show can’t go on. But it will, and it does so at its own peril.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.