Ma­jor sports need to sit out this sea­son

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - GENE LYONS eu­gene­lyons2@ya­

So we were hav­ing din­ner when my wife said: “It still feels weird that you’re not go­ing into the TV room to watch base­ball later on. Kind of sad, re­ally.”

Now, sup­pos­edly, I’ve got­ten a re­prieve. Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred has or­dained that Ma­jor League Base­ball is com­ing back in late July: a 60-game sched­ule, fol­lowed by the reg­u­lar play­off sched­ule and the World Se­ries.

A lot of wives would have mixed feel­ings about that, but not Diane. Base­ball has al­ways been a big part of our lives to­gether. I some­times say I re­al­ized I needed to marry her when she asked me to drive us from Char­lottesvill­e to Bal­ti­more for the 1966 World Se­ries. Her child­hood friend Brooks Robin­son, the Ori­oles’ bril­liant third base­man, had given her tick­ets.

I also like to tell the story of over­hear­ing Diane’s re­sponse to a neigh­bor who asked in­dig­nantly why she al­lowed me to watch ball­games on TV. Her own hus­band was for­bid­den, even when his home­town team was in the play­offs.

“Well, if I told him he couldn’t, he’d do it any­way,” she be­gan. “He doesn’t try to tell me what I can watch.”

Which was re­ally all that needed to be said. Even so, she con­tin­ued.

“My daddy was a base­ball coach, so I like it, too. Some­times we watch games to­gether. Do I ever get tired of it? Sure. But com­pared to some of things men do . . . When he’s watch­ing base­ball, he’s home, he’s sober and he’s not out in a bar.”

This last, I’m sure, was purely for shock value. I don’t get drunk. But Diane thinks hus­bands and wives su­per­vis­ing each other’s ev­ery wak­ing hour is symp­to­matic of why there are so many bit­ter di­vorces. Hav­ing spent her child­hood rid­ing cross-coun­try in school buses filled with wise­crack­ing teenage ballplay­ers, she likes guys the way they are.

But I di­gress. Given that my life has re­volved around base­ball pretty much since I was an 8-yearold rac­ing up­stairs to tell my fa­ther about Bobby Thom­son’s mirac­u­lous ninth-in­ning home run off Ralph Branca — the “shot heard ’round the world,” so called — to win the Na­tional League pen­nant in 1951, I guess I should be ex­cited about the game’s re­turn.

In­stead, I find the prospect mildly de­press­ing. First, be­cause I doubt Ma­jor League Base­ball can ac­tu­ally pull it off dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic. Sec­ond, be­cause I don’t think they should even try. It’s too dan­ger­ous for ev­ery­body in­volved.

Dur­ing the seem­ingly end­less bick­er­ing be­tween the team own­ers and the play­ers’ union that pre­ceded Man­fred’s an­nounce­ment, I lost pa­tience with both sides. Nor­mally, I don’t read sto­ries about the busi­ness of base­ball for the same rea­son I don’t follow the stock mar­ket: It ain’t none of me. But don’t these char­ac­ters un­der­stand that they owe a lot more to the game than the game owes to them?

Out­spo­ken Cincin­nati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer got it ex­actly right: “It’s ab­so­lute death for this in­dus­try to keep act­ing as it has been. Both sides. We’re driv­ing the bus straight off a cliff,” he posted on Twitter. “How is this good for any­one in­volved?

“COVID-19 al­ready pre­sented a lose lose lose sit­u­a­tion and we’ve some­how found a way to make it worse.”

Strictly from the ath­letes’ point of view, how ea­ger would you be to fly into Phoenix, Hous­ton or Mi­ami right now to quar­an­tine in a ho­tel and play ball in an empty sta­dium? Al­ready, sev­eral play­ers, in­clud­ing the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ fine first base­man, Ryan Zim­mer­man, have in­di­cated they’ll sit the sea­son out.

I be­lieve I’d opt out, too. True, few healthy, young pro­fes­sional ath­letes are in dan­ger of dy­ing from COVID-19. How­ever, there are in­creas­ing in­di­ca­tions of lon­glast­ing nerve and lung dam­age from the dis­ease, ei­ther of which could end a player’s ca­reer. They also have fam­i­lies to con­sider. Zim­mer­man’s state­ment ref­er­enced his new­born son and his el­derly mother af­flicted with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. Things ap­pear likely to get worse in the short term.

Truth­fully, I think ev­ery­body would be bet­ter off if we just gave up on the 2020 sea­son in pro­fes­sional sports across the board. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, all of it. I’d in­clude NCAA foot­ball, too. Just for­get it. The dan­gers are too great and the re­wards too small. Start again when there’s a re­li­able vac­cine.

But, yeah, if they’re play­ing, I’m watch­ing. I do fear that base­ball will tele­vise very badly in an empty sta­dium — ev­ery pop-up and long fly ball ex­pos­ing acres of empty seats. Even home-run balls rolling around in the bleach­ers in tomb­like si­lence will only em­pha­size what has been lost.

Bet­ter to heed that an­cient slo­gan redo­lent of base­ball’s end­less spring­time re­ju­ve­na­tion: “Wait till next year.”



Yan­kee Sta­dium sits empty on Open­ing Day, March 26, be­cause of coron­avirus re­stric­tions. Ma­jor League Base­ball has de­cided to re­sume the sea­son with a short­ened sched­ule late this month.

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