“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. ... Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”
So wrote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis on Jan. 14, 1942, weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II.
Roosevelt knew the role sports played in unifying the country by offering a few hours of diversion in difficult times.
If only baseball’s current caretakers took the game’s role as “America’s pastime” as seriously.
The NBA recently revealed plans to return to the hardcourt in July. The NHL cooked up a 24-team playoff that could put teams on the ice later this month. The NFL is looking toward a full slate of games this fall. Meanwhile, the boys of summer are sitting on the bench, sulking.
Unsurprisingly, greed plays a role. The owners proposed a shortened 82-game season, with players taking a pay cut beyond the games they’ve already missed. The owners will lose about 40 percent of their revenue since games will be played without fans in the stands; they think players should share some of that pain.
The players union rejected that proposal, offering a 114-game season with no pay cuts. The owners are now making plans for a 50-game season, which the players will almost certainly reject.
Baseball needs us as much as we need it. The game was steeped in controversy and malaise even before COVID-19 forced a timeout. A sign-stealing scandal tainted the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series win. Popular Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who helped orchestrate the scheme while with Houston, resigned before he was fired. Boston let Mookie Betts, its best player in a generation, decamp for Los Angeles. Ticket prices went up.
Now, the sport risks not having a season at all. Instead, the summer will be filled with high-energy basketball and hockey playoffs, with college and professional football waiting in the wings.
It’s difficult to pick out the bad guys in this battle of the millionaires vs. the billionaires. It’s as if the New York Yankees were somehow playing the New York Yankees -- we root against both sides, and we all lose.