I’m 49 years old. Born into a golden era of baseball, the 70’s. For me it started with the Red Sox battling in what was instantly one of the greatest World Series contests that ever happened. The 1975 World Series. Our underdog Red Sox gallantly battled back to take the vaunted Big Red Machine, the heavily favorited Cincinnati Reds, to seven games. It still stands today as one of America’s most iconic championship sports series’ in history.
I could watch Carlton Fisk’s storybook walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 6 of that series over and over and over again and never get bored. Watching Fred Lynn as a kid was like watching the movie The Natural in real-time. He was my first sports hero.
It was love at first sight.
For decades, no other sport offered fans across this great nation the kind of romance that baseball did. That was its secret sauce. Around here, heroes from Ted Williams, to Yaz to Tony C and the 1967 Red Sox, right through the near misses of the ’70s and heartbreak of the ’80s; generations of families and friends were born into a kind of romance and passion that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Baseball has successfully clung onto that feeling it created for the most part over the last 30 years but recently has used it more like a crutch. A reason not to evolve.
Ask Polaroid how a failure to change quickly enough worked out for them. That is if you can find anyone to tell you. For the record, it didn’t work out well.
For years, Major League Baseball has been looking backward with clear 20/20 vision, yet blind to what’s been staring them right in the face in the present. Now, matters are worse. While in the throes of a pandemic and quarantine conditions that we have never experienced before in my lifetime, that crutch baseball has leaned on for so long is ready to break. Permanently.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for baseball’s troubles. Failure to change without any courage to do so is on the league and the owners. Make no mistake though, when it comes to the way MLB is very publicly not coming to an agreement to come back and play during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s squarely on the players.
To Blake Snell, a star pitcher who spoke out last week I offer this: ignorant, selfish, stupid, tone-deaf and blind to your fan’s needs is no way to go through life son. Next time you stare at your keyboard while incoherently mumbling to your computer microphone, say something that a person with a middle school diploma could be proud of.
So much is wrong with what Snell said and Bryce Harper echoed last week. It’s tough to cover it all, but I’m going to try.
First, know your customers. Or in the case of Major League Baseball players, understand that you have customers. Players used to understand that and thrive within that understanding. It’s a simple idea to grasp; fans need to be understood and heard. That’s why sports radio works so well. This idea is simply not understood by the players well enough anymore and it’s at the core of their sport’s problems. It’s not about the money, fans understand all too well what the ballplayers make and have for decades. They simply need not throw it in our collective faces and whine about how hard they have it when so much of the country is in financial and physical ruin.
Tone-deaf? Yes. Just plain stupid? Hell yes.
Do you think Snell even remotely considers the fact that you drop hundreds of hard-earned dollars you can’t afford at the ballpark to watch him pitch when he makes those remarks? The answer is a firm no. At least not until the media calls him out and his agent tells him he should retract his statement. It’s not just Snell, but his words underline a very real problem; that the players don’t have any idea how to treat their customers or at a minimum not say exactly what they don’t want to hear.
Fans are angry. Former players and representatives of the game should be embarrassed and this current lot of players should be publicly shamed.
I’ll end with this. On or about the fourth inning of every home game at Fenway, the ballpark honors a military service member. It’s a program called Hats off to Heroes. Everybody rightfully stands and applauds these brave individual’s service and personal sacrifice. It’s always a nice and prideful moment. As the tribute goes on, you can see the players on the field and coming up from the dugout steps, to salute that game’s recognized hero. These are people that when duty to serve their country called, they answered the call. A call to duty that could and too often will change their lives, those of their families and communities forever. They answer the call knowing all the risks.
To the major league baseball players, in a time of global crisis that is impacting your country in a profoundly negative way, you have been called to duty in a sense as well. Your duty requires far less risk, not even close to be frank, but it’s a civic duty nonetheless. Will you do your part? Find a way to play a game and offer your customers (the fans) something to enjoy during this very difficult time. Or will you stay in your virtual dugout?
July 1 is coming quickly. Answer your call. Respect your customers and maybe just maybe, like any business that treats its customers well, you may earn some new ones. Pandemic or not, that is something baseball has needed for a very long time.
Baseball has so much to gain by playing but even more to lose by not. Will you take advantage of this rare opportunity to help your game? Or will you let your games snowballing problems turn into an inescapable avalanche? Now is the time to figure it out, answer your call and save your game. Otherwise, America’s pastime will too soon be known as, America’s passed time.