Play ball!

That’s what the governors in even the most heavily stricken coronavirus states that house professional sports stadiums and practice facilities have told the players and owners in every sport. You can’t get the president and governors of a lot of those states to agree on much of anything, but on this issue they are in alignment.

Nope.

That’s what the players and owners in baseball continue to say right now.

It’s not that they don’t want to play. It’s just that they cannot agree on the financial conditions of a COVID-19 shortened season.

Strange days indeed.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies offseason. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.

— Bob Brookover (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Referencing baseball's greatest players, including Hank Aaron, an anonymous player is pleading for the season to be played.
AP
Referencing baseball's greatest players, including Hank Aaron, an anonymous player is pleading for the season to be played.

Hopeful opinions from the Midwest and an anonymous plea

Even after the owners rejected the 114-game proposal submitted by the players Wednesday, a couple of voices of hope emerged in Midwestern cities.

Dick Williams, the president of baseball operations for the Cincinnati Reds, told Fox Sports Ohio that “both sides want to play” and that he believes an agreement is “very close.” Meanwhile in Milwaukee, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “I firmly believe we are going to have baseball this season.”

Despite the optimism from the Midwest, a story circulated that the owners might consider implementing a 50-game season, a move that would surely meet resistance from the players union.

One anonymous player, however, sent a bulk email to baseball writers across the country late Wednesday night. It was a plea to play the games. Here’s the email in its entirety:

Baseball Sportswriters,

Below I have written an editorial I would like for you to consider printing in your respective publications. I cannot put my name on this piece as I'm almost certain it would put my career in extreme jeopardy, but I feel a social obligation to try to share it with as many people as possible. This is a compromise with which I feel comfortable.

I've included a photo of my player card from last year (with my name and picture blocked out) and a pen from the MLBPA to assure you that I am a current union member.

If you choose to run the piece, please do so in full and do not edit it for anything other than clarity. Also, time is clearly of the essence in this situation.

Thank you,

Anonymous MLB Player

"Let us play for the common good"

Baseball is the sport of Jackie Robinson.

Of Larry Doby breaking the American League’s own color barrier only months later. Of Roberto Clemente sacrificing his life providing humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Of Hank Aaron besting the Babe’s home run record in Atlanta—the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. — in the face of constant and vicious death threats. Of Satchel Paige, Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Bob (and Josh) Gibson, Dave Winfield, the list goes on and on. Of men who are remembered not only for their terrific performances on the field but also for their lives of character, substance, and activism off of it.

Baseball is the sport of 9/21/2001.

Of the Mets winning 3-2 wearing NYPD and NYFD hats. Of President Bush throwing a strike down the middle for the first pitch in Yankee Stadium in a bulletproof vest. Of fans in Citizens Bank Park erupting “U-S-A, U-S-A” upon finding out that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces, only to have that truth confirmed by President Obama hours later in a special broadcast to the country.

Baseball is the sport of Ted Williams.

Of Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and countless others interrupting their careers as legends in between the lines to lay their lives on the line as heroes in the war against fascism in Europe and the Pacific. Of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League skillfully representing all the Rosie-the-Riveters who were so crucial in saving the world from evil. Of the later reconciliation process with Japan that has led to our status today as strong allies.

In good times and in bad, baseball has always been there for our country and the world.

Times now are beyond bad.

A global pandemic has killed over 108,000 Americans (380,000 people worldwide). One in four American workers has filed for unemployment. The world seems on the brink of collapse as people have been stuck inside their homes for months.

And most recently, yet another black man, George Floyd, was murdered by a police officer, sparking protests and riots all over the nation. On the heels of Ahmaud Arbery being hunted by two white men for daring to go on a jog. On the heels of Breonna Taylor being shot to death in her apartment by police officers. The unending cycle of systemic racial injustices in our country, which was established on the twin pillars of genocide and slavery, rolls on.

As a privileged young white man, I don’t have much to say about how our society threatens the safety, well-being, and fundamental existence of black people other than this: I, along with baseball players of all races, ethnicities, creeds, and nationalities, stand with the black community in demanding justice. We hear you, we see you, we stand with you. Black lives matter.

As a mediocre and expendable AAAA player (thus the anonymity, which by the way is for the messages below, not above), I am also self-aware enough to know no one cares about my opinion on MLB labor relations matters. All that being said, I do know one thing that is entirely true and deserves to be said: America needs baseball, right now, as much as ever. Some semblance of normalcy. A shred of hope. A bit of light. And it is squarely our responsibility as players and management to provide it to them.

Yes, money is and will always be an issue. But since MLB and Rob Manfred are content to slow-play, low-ball, and negotiate through the media instead of in good faith, it’s time we as players came out and expressed just how badly we want to represent our cities and our countries in this time of unprecedented crisis.

We want to play baseball. As safely as possible, as soon as possible, and as much as possible.

So Rob, get on the phone with Tony Clark and do not hang up until y’all work out a deal. Call him all day, every day. He’s ready to talk with you. You don’t have to wait days in between every conversation. At this point it’s a disservice to both the owners and the MLBPA.

You owe it to the game; you owe it to the country; you owe it to the frontline workers; you owe it to the ill; you owe it to the disenfranchised; you owe it to the discouraged; you owe it to the first responders; you owe it to anyone whose life can be made better right now by our sport; you owe it to the world. Honestly, as Commissioner of Baseball, you owe it to yourself and your legacy. Whatever brings you to the table with honest enthusiasm for working out a deal instead of steadfastly fighting to save as many pennies as possible.

The stakes are high. If we squander this opportunity to serve our nation as a beacon of normalcy and hope and light in yet another time of peril, baseball really will cease to be America’s pastime once and for all.

And that would be a damn shame as the sport of Jackie Robinson.

The rundown

It took a while, but MLB pledged zero tolerance for racial injustice Wednesday amid the nationwide turmoil that erupted following the knee-to-the-neck death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

George Floyd’s murder has kept me up at night and taken me back 28 years to the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers after the beating of motorist Rodney King was captured clearly on video. The Phillies were in L.A. on that fateful April 29, 1992 date when the city erupted and the days afterward changed my life forever.

Phillies employees will still be paid and receive health benefits through the month of October, but managing partner John Middleton informed them this week that all those making $90,000 or more would have to take a pay cut.

Before the MLB statement, Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper and first baseman Rhys Hoskins were among the many local professional athletes who expressed their own concern about racial injustice. Marcus Hayes applauded them all in his column.

Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen also weighed in on George Floyd’s death in a USA Today op-ed piece.

If commissioner Rob Manfred and players union leader Tony Clark cannot negotiate a deal to get baseball back on the field this season, they will become the murder hornets of the game. In my column, former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is hopeful that some good will come of the intensifying labor strife.

Former Phillies outfielder and hitting coach Milt Thompson should still be working with a big-league affiliate, but he was not hired by anyone after being dismissed by the Cincinnati Reds at the end of last season. And so, as Marc Narducci writes, he has accepted a job working with high school kids who missed their senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Important dates

June 4: On this date in 1964, future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax pitched his third no-hitter in as many seasons, blanking the Phillies 3-0 at Connie Mack Stadium. He walked one and struck out 12.

June 5: Robin Roberts wins his 234th and final game in a Phillies uniform against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on this date in 1961. That remains a franchise record for a righthander and trails only Steve Carlton’s 241 on the team’s all-time list.

June 6: On this date in 2008, closer Brad Lidge picked up his 16th save in Atlanta to break Al Holland’s franchise record for consecutive saves at the start of a season.

June 10: The first round of MLB’s first-year player draft.

June 11: The second, third, fourth and fifth rounds of MLB’s five-round draft.

The percentage of African-American players in major-league baseball have been on the decline in the 21st century, but black players still have won the National League MVP in eight of the 20 seasons. Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the award in 2007.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The percentage of African-American players in major-league baseball have been on the decline in the 21st century, but black players still have won the National League MVP in eight of the 20 seasons. Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the award in 2007.

Stat of the day

In 1962, which was 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, African-American players accounted for 10.1 percent of big-league players, according to SABR.org (Society of American Baseball Research) website. That number remained in double digits through the 2004 season after peaking at 18.7 percent in 1981. The last data revealed from the SABR site was in 2016 when 6.7 percent of the big-league players were African-American. Sad but true.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: I am not entirely satisfied with the apparent decision of MLB to play to empty stadiums. Of all sports, baseball has stadiums large enough ... to accommodate any number of distancing solutions for about 50 percent capacity as some restaurants are doing. Has this been considered? If not, why not and why has the press accepted so docilely the decisions from above?

Fred S., via email

Answer: Thanks for reading and posing a very interesting question Fred. I think the plan is to get the games going without fans and to consider allowing them back in as the COVID-19 cases decline. I don’t think any team in any sports wants to be responsible for a surge of coronavirus cases. To that point, it will be interesting to see if the NFL is able to pack its stadiums come September. My guess is that they will have to figure out a way to have fewer fans. Baseball is having a difficult enough time just finding common ground to get back on the field, so I’d be happy if they could just accomplish that feat.