In a sadly predictable development, Major League Baseball continues to go the way of the Woke, demonstrating a contempt for its audience and the players’ and owners’ narcissistic need for self-validation through virtue-signaling.
This past weekend I tried listening to an Orioles game for the first time since swearing off baseball last year because of the sport’s virtue-signaling and bowing (or to be exact, kneeling) to the Black Lives Matter movement. But it was Opening Day, and my young, rebuilding Orioles were featuring the unheralded and unlikely All-Star John Means as their starting pitcher. Who doesn’t like an underdog? The modest, likable Mr. Means turned in a gem—one of the greatest Opening Day starts in team history in fact—and the Orioles won the game 3-0.
It would have been easy, as I listened to the afternoon radio broadcast from Fenway Park, to revel in the excitement and purity of the game of baseball again, to enjoy this victory, and to forget momentarily the Wokeness of last summer. But news had broken around the time of the first pitch that soured the experience for me: Major League Baseball was pulling this season’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of the voting integrity legislation recently passed by the Republican-controlled Georgia state legislature. Without, apparently, reading the text of the legislation itself or listening to an objective analysis of its provisions—which actually expand voting opportunities and simply require a valid photo ID in order to vote—baseball’s powers-that-be decided to embrace the outlandish and deliberately false characterization of the law promoted by the Democratic Party and the Left.; i.e., it is a “racist” attempt to keep black people from voting.
This boycott of Georgia, egged on by the current occupant of the Oval Office, who inscrutably said that the law makes “Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” is simply the latest self-inflicted wound committed by the barons of Major League Baseball—greedy billionaire owners, spoiled millionaire players, and a cowardly, politically-correct commissioner—that has stained the sacred game over the last several years. First, there is the ever-worsening state of competitive imbalance, in which the highest-salaried team (the Los Angeles Dodgers) boasts a payroll five times that of the lowest-salaried team (the Cleveland Indians), and in which nine of the top ten teams in salary are nearly guaranteed one of the ten playoff spots this year (the exception being the spendthrift, foolhardy Red Sox), while the bottom ten teams have almost no hope of reaching the postseason; the season in effect will consist of 162 games that will determine which of the middling 10 teams claims that last playoff spot.
Second, there are the hubristic Houston Astros’ players, who cheated their way to a World Series victory in 2017, and who remain unpunished and unrepentant, with the team itself only suffering the proverbial slap on the wrist that hasn’t hindered their status as a perennial playoff contender one bit. Indeed, the Astros have the third-highest payroll in the game this year and thus seem a shoo-in for the postseason.
Third, as the Georgia boycott illustrates again, baseball has decidedly gone the way of the Woke under Commissioner Rob Manfred. A few years ago, teams began embracing the LGBTQ ideology by holding “LGBTQ Days” at their ballparks and providing “sensitivity training” on gender to players at all levels of their systems. In addition, the movement to ban the “offensive” logo of Cleveland Indians, “Chief Wahoo,” has been gaining steam for some time. And last year, of course, we saw players kneeling during, or before, the playing of the National Anthem, donning Black Lives Matter T-shirts and uniform patches, and repeating inane Leftist talking points about America’s “systemic racism.”
To baseball fans, the arrival of Wokism should not be a surprise, as politics has now infected just about every nook and cranny of American society. Conservatives must steel themselves whenever they attend a sporting or cultural event, or indeed any social gathering, in preparation for being compelled to listen to some sort of lecture or demonstration on America’s sins (i.e., the White Man’s sins). Worse, they are often pressured into participating actively in some Leftist ritual decrying their and their ancestors’ alleged wrongdoings.
When the kneeling-in-protest phenomenon began in the National Football League, conservatives and other sensible people who objected to the practice typically argued that this was a sign of disrespect to the military in particular. Perhaps, but kneeling is more broadly a sign of disregard for the country as a whole, and that means indifference to our common bonds as Americans. But even more accurately, allowing politics to invade sports shows contempt for one’s fellow man, a function of the wildfire-narcissism of our times.
Indeed, the virtue that we perhaps most lack in American society is a sense of selflessness, an awareness of our role in any given situation, a concern for the wellbeing and comfort of others around us—our audience. “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare famously wrote. “And all the men and women merely players.”
The best piece of advice that can be given to baseball players, to anyone, is this: “It’s not about you.”
Of course, baseball has been gradually abandoning this principle for some time, as players have adopted the kind of unseemly showboating after home runs (and even singles!) that once seemed confined to the NBA and NFL. The old “baseball code,” which had its heart the idea that a player never showed up another player, has become an object of mockery by baseball announcers and analysts, who denounce any attempt to limit the players’ “right” to have fun. And fans at major league parks in large part believe that their ticket purchase entitles them to behave as raucously as one wishes and to shout any sort of obscenity at opposing players.
Now, players are “showing up” not only pitchers off whom they hit home runs, but fans themselves who ultimately pay their (often exorbitant) salaries. Why would any hired performer—whether clown, stage actor, or sportsman—want to anger and alienate a large segment of his audience and foster division among those who have come to enjoy his performance? The answer is… ego. Somewhere in their souls these athlete-activists want to feel important, to feel that they are not simply hired hands who possess mere physical skills good only for playing something that is a mere child’s game. They know deep in their hearts that they aren’t really deep people at all, and that bothers them. Like the news reporter who has now almost universally become a raging political sage, like the college professor who now in most cases attempts to indoctrinate and not merely teach, like the computer programmer who often spouts his political views endlessly on social media, the modern athlete is not content with his humble role on the great stage of life; instead, he seeks self-validation and ego-nurturing through virtue-signaling.
In the fall of 2016, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the popular Broadway show, Hamilton, and was lectured by the cast from the stage after the performance about the supposed wrongheadedness of his policy positions. In response, Steven van Zandt, guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band—and a vocal political Leftist—rebuked director Lin-Manuel Miranda: “Audiences shouldn’t have to worry about being blindsided like that. This sets a terrible precedent. Completely inappropriate. Theater should be a safe haven for Art to speak. Not the actors. He needs to apologize to Mike Pence.”*
Mr. Van Zandt was exactly right. And his thinking applies equally well to the arena of sports. Our hometown players may believe whatever they wish in terms of politics, but what gives them the right to interfere with the game itself and our enjoyment of it through the imposition of their views upon us, the fans? And where is the player who will stand up to this madness? There are apparently many conservative Christian players in the game, but are there any with the courage to oppose the mob and risk being labeled a racist?
While we await the appearance of such courageous souls, we conservatives should not subject ourselves to being, in effect, browbeaten by holier-than-thou players, owners, and commissioner. Listen or watch the occasional game for free as you choose—as I did with my Orioles on Opening Day—but consider conducting your own boycott of baseball by refraining from buying tickets and MLB merchandise and by canceling your MLBTV subscription. Perhaps writing a letter to your hometown team about why you are taking these steps will have some effect.
For there is still one thing that surely still matters more to the modern owner and player than politics: their pocketbooks.
This essay was adapted from an earlier version that first appeared here in July 2020.
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*”Steven Van Zandt Calls on ‘Hamilton’ to Apologize to Mike Pence,” Rolling Stone, November 19, 2016.
The featured image, uploaded by All-Pro Reels, is a photograph of the Yankees vs Nationals game on July 23, 2020. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.