Baseball in America
Some thoughts for the 4th of July.
Today marks 242 years since the signing of the Declaration, by all accounts one of the more important points in our country’s history. It also, coincidentally, marks one of the more important days of the baseball calendar. 4 July is one of the few days where all 30 teams are guaranteed to be taking the field. Baseball, you see, gets somewhat shafted by how we choose to allocate our holidays. Whereas football owns Thanksgiving and basketball is found wall-to-wall on Christmas Day, baseball is left with the B-list of holidays on which to showcase their product. So — sorry Arbor Day — 4th of July it is, and thus, over the past several decades, baseball has become as emblematic of this celebration of our founding as burgers or fireworks.
The Powers That Be in the world of baseball are by and large unbothered by this quirk of the calendar. It is to their everlasting benefit that the Second Continental Congress convened when they did, and MLB has spent decades (and earned billions) capitalizing on this temporal stroke of luck. The confluence of baseball season with the historical fact of our founding has helped baseball to stake its claim as America’s Pastime, and — even as the game’s popularity has suffered — it is still the sacred calf of American sport, existing out of time, unbothered by the topics of the day.
Largely for demographic reasons, baseball has thus far maintained its fragile air of apoliticism in a time when there should be no such thing. Though the number of players of color is on the rise thanks to an growing international contingent of major leaguers, the number of black ballplayers specifically is at it’s lowest point since integration (a problem MLB is well aware of, but seems to be in no rush to address). Across all American professional sports, black athletes have historically been the most vocal champions of morality and progress. So the lack of black voices in baseball leaves it as little surprise that the sport hasn’t had it’s Kaepernick Moment yet (shouts to Bruce Maxwell though). No one is holding the sport accountable.
Outside of the perfectly groomed idyll of the ballpark exists a hellscape of a country. The poor get poorer; Jeff Bezos gets richer. Americans dying of curable illnesses are dependent on the charity of strangers to afford basic healthcare; and families fleeing countries we destabilized for economic gain reach our borders crying for help, only to be ripped apart. Yet baseball is allowed to commemorate the day that brought this country into existence by rolling out their latest line of marked-up merchandise, without having to grapple with what it means to be sporting the stars and stripes in 2018. (Of note: MLB’s various Independence Day uniforms violate the U.S. Flag Code no less that three (3) separate times, so do with that information what you will.)
If we let Rob Manfred and his 30 billionaire bosses have their way, baseball season will always be set Normal Rockwell’s America, which is a shame, and a squandering of potential. Baseball’s growing international contingent gives it the potential to be so much more: a fountainhead of solidarity — both symbolic and concrete — with the people of the Global South. Right now, that’s something neither the NFL or NBA have the ability to provide. Baseball’s power brokers will never easily allow their precious game to take on such an overtly political context, but MLB’s player’s union is the strongest of any in American sport. So maybe this Independence Day, some player will find the dissonance between the America they find in between the base paths and the one they navigate outside the park too disconcerting, and finally speak up.
But if not, responsibility at some point as to fall to the fans. Uncritically consuming the star-spangled propaganda set out by MLB is, at this point, complicity, and betrays a level of comfort with hegemony that is itself a political stance. So I ask you, my six loyal readers, if you go to the ballpark today, okay, have fun. But don’t be blinded by the bunting and banners. Don’t allow MLB to reap the benefits of wrapping itself in the flag without clarifying what it is about America they’re proud of; because honestly there’s not a hell of a lot right now.