“It’s hard not to romanticize baseball,” states Billy Bean in the film Moneyball. It’s a point that baseball fans and sports fans find it hard to disagree with. Baseball is an unforgiving game, where luck is more involved than in any other major American sport. You can make every right decision and still lose; you can make gigantic mistakes and come away the victor. The grind of baseball does what it does, and drawing meaning from what are meaningless events is something at which humans excel.
Yet it’s hard not to romanticize baseball for other reasons, more important reasons. Baseball is quintessentially American, and so much of the United States’ history is inextricably linked with the sport. From its earliest days, baseball was a battleground of civil rights before nearly anywhere else. The rises and falls of sporting trends are etched into baseball’s history. Most recently, the weight of the push towards an analytical understanding of the game has caused other sports to move in similar ways.
Baseball is ultimately a sport about family, about friends, about community. Fathers and mothers have taught their sons and daughters how to play catch for generations, and generations of families have grown up rooting for the same teams. Baseball is in America’s blood. And as baseball has become more international, it has still maintained its status as American—but as the best version of America, the one that welcomes immigrants and invites us all to pull forward as one.
If you’re old enough, you’ve witnessed baseball be one of the largest beacons of hope for a country ripped apart by the most shocking terrorist attack in the country’s history. We remember President Bush throwing out the first pitch. We remember the New York Yankees wearing hats adorned with the logos of the real heroes of the day. We remember Sammy Sosa—an immigrant, a non-citizen, a non-native English speaker—rounding the bases after his trademark home run hop with an American flag.
It’s hard to not get romantic about baseball because baseball is romantic. For what is more romantic than searching for meaning where there often is none? What is more romantic about a game that represents a country’s identity, a game that is a lighthouse for life?
Covid-19 has endangered the very existence of baseball. Combating it, and preventing the deaths of millions, has lurched everything to a halt. Baseball was supposed to start in late March. The date came and went. The beginning of April came and went. No baseball. For baseball to return, it would have to take an enormous logistical effort, with questions at nearly every single turn. We have assuredly seen the death of a 162-game season, and there exists the potential that baseball may not come back at all.
This probably won’t be the case for a few reasons. First, that it would be monumentally unfair to everyone involved for it not to return. Unfair to the fans. Unfair to the players, whose future livelihood depends on what they do or don’t do on the field. Unfair to minor leaguers, many of whom live on the edge of poverty in search of a dream. Unfair to the executives, coaches, and owners.
Second, there is a truly gigantic amount of money to be made from baseball. That can’t really be understated. Major League Baseball is a $10 billion a year industry. There are TV contracts and salaries in the tens and hundreds of millions on the line. John Sherman and his investing group just bought the Royals for $1 billion. Even a partial season, a half season, would be better than a whole season.
But the main reason why it’s likely that we’ll see baseball in one form or another is that it is too important not to come back. For a nation that has been rocked by a deep, unprecedented, and existential crisis, baseball isn’t just a sport; it’s a representation of the resiliency of humanity. Every precaution ought to be taken by the government and by the league itself. Just as after 9/11, the safety of the players, coaches, fans, and field workers are paramount. And make no mistake: the coronavirus crisis could worsen and destroy the potential for baseball in 2020. That is a possibility.
However, if there’s any chance that it’s reasonably safe, we’ll see baseball again. Sports has always presented us a way to heal together. Baseball is uniquely qualified to do so. And we need it.