Fresh off of earning a World Series ring with the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman, has said, thanks, but no thanks, to the idea of playing baseball during the 2020 MLB season of COVID-19 induced uncertainty.
In making his announcement Zimmerman said, “After a great deal of thought and given my family circumstances – three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at high risk – I have decided not to participate in the 2020 season. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family.”
Zimmerman’s Nats teammate, pitcher Joe Ross, also announced that he will be opting out this year.
On the same day that Zimmerman and Ross, opted out, the Minnesota Twins announced that two of their coaches, Bob McClure and Bill Evers, would be excused for the 2020 season based on concerns about their health and the risks that playing baseball in the middle of a global pandemic could expose them to.
I applaud Zimmerman, Ross and the Twins for realizing that there is more at stake this year than trying to squeeze in 60 baseball game in 66 days. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the idea that the MLB is going forward with a plan to play baseball in the middle of a global health crisis is asinine.
With the number of cases of COVID-19 rising from coast to coast on a daily basis, the last thing we need is to have people traveling from place to place potentially spreading the virus.
I totally get that there are millions, if not billions, of dollars at stake if the MLB does not play ball this year. But, by them deciding to go forward with this plan they are potentially putting lives at stake just to stage a made for TV event.
Of course, with owners like Jim Crane, whose Houston Astros are literally located in one of the hottest of COVID-19 hot spots at the moment, saying that they need to sell beer and nachos to fans in order to make money, one can clearly see where the priorities sit for some people.
Nearly a third of the MLB teams are located in some of the areas that are experiencing hospital bed shortages, increased COVID-19 positivity rates, and rollbacks on business openings as they try to wrangle the COVID-19 monster that is spreading with reckless abandon like a water-soaked Gremlin.
At the time of this writing, the Toronto Blue Jays have not received permission to train and host games in their home Ballpark based on concerns of hosting 30 home games with teams from other areas that are not following the 14-day quarantine requirements for travel from the United States to Canada. In the event that games in Canada cannot be played, the Blue Jays would likely host games at their Spring Training Ballpark in Dunedin, FL.
The number of Canadian officials needing to give the green light for the Blue Jays to play ball should stand as a glaring reminder that there is a lot at stake, and a lot of risk that is needing to be accepted, in order to play baseball.
The proponents of getting to go to baseball games, packing their churches full of shoulder to shoulder parishioners, not wearing masks, and basically doing whatever they want to do, usually roll out the First Amendment of the US Constitution and tie it all together in a pretty bow of freedom of speech, religion and expression as their get out of jail free card to do whatever they want by calling it a hat trick of protections.
As a refresher for those who may have taken Government class many years ago and have forgotten the words of the First Amendment they state that, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In Journalism school, and throughout my career, I along with many of my fellow journalists, have clung to the First Amendment freedom of the press clause like Linus clung to his blanket. In fact, one year my high school newspaper staff t-shirt had the first amendment printed on the back of it to remind us of the great freedom we had.
Of course, just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do something. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was fond of saying, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
As part of that responsibility, in Journalism school we were also taught that there were potential limits to free speech insofar as they interfered with the freedoms and the rights of others. In particular, we could not knowingly libel or slander someone and call it protected speech merely by waving the First Amendment in their face.
This is where the calls form elected officials, along with public health officials, for responsible social distancing and use of face coverings come in.
Sure, as a society we could kick and scream and say that it is our God given inalienable right to not social distance and not wear a mask as the rest of the world laughs at how the United States failed to contain the virus because we had too many freedoms.
But the more God like, and for that matter the more American, behavior would be to protect ourselves and others by wearing a mask. COVID-19 doesn’t care who you voted for. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you lean to the right, lean to the left, or if you stand up straight in the middle.
Without a proclamation from state or federal government officials saying that MLB cannot gather to play ball in their particular jurisdiction, they are free to do so. The question then becomes, just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should. There is also the non-uniformity related to which Ballparks can have fans, and which ones cannot.
I am still hopeful that between now and the scheduled first pitch on July 24th, the MLB season will be cancelled. MLB could make such a bold statement by telling their fans to stay home and wear a mask, by having its players staying home and wearing masks when they go out, instead of trying to put on the farce of what will amount to a shortened A Ball season.
One of the biggest mistakes that sports fans can make, and I was certainly guilty of it at times, is to elevate the players on the field to mythical god-like levels and see them only as players, and not people. When we do this, we fail to realize that every athlete is just a person like the rest of us. Granted, a person who can throw a ball a lot harder than most of us, but still just a person.
Athletes have families, and they have pursuits beyond just playing the game. Athletes, like the rest of us are also not immune to catching COVID-19, even if they adhere to over 100 pages of MLB guidance for how to play baseball in the middle of a pandemic that has, at the time of this writing, killed over 128,000 Americans.
Ryan Zimmerman, and any other players who decide to sit out the season, know what is important, so why shouldn’t they sit out the season? Sports careers are fleeting, and the greatest trait an athlete can possess is knowing that there is a life to be lived outside of the lines.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see what classic baseball movie the MLB Network is airing tonight.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson