There should be Nationals baseball being played today.
Opening Day represents a new beginning for all 30 MLB teams all vying to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the grueling season.
This Opening Day was supposed to be extra special for the Nats, as we were supposed to celebrate our team’s first championship in franchise history. I was extra excited to make the pilgrimage to New York for Sunday’s tilt against the Mets and get to rub our success in the faces of one of our biggest rivals. Today, we were supposed to watch Max Scherzer dominate the New York lineup and watch the new offense take on a difficult opponent in Jacob DeGrom. Instead, we’re stuck at home watching reruns of previous Opening Days and the magical playoff run of last season.
These unprecedented changes impact everyone involved in orchestrating the baseball season – from the players and high-ranking officials to the concession workers and security guards at Nationals Park. What should MLB do to ensure their safety while also allowing fans to enjoy one of the most special times of the baseball season?
As was announced a few weeks ago, Major League Baseball won’t start its season until at least mid-May. If the trajectory of cases of COVID-19 continues to increase at the rate which it has been recently, that mid-May date would likely be pushed back even further. In a best-case scenario where the season does start in May, a second “Spring Training” might be necessary for players to get back in the swing of things. That would even further delay the MLB season until early-to-mid June. Never in the history of Major League Baseball, a storied organization that can trace its roots back to the late 19th century and survived two World Wars, has Opening Day been pushed back more than one week. That was in 1981, when a players’ strike occurred.
There are a few proposals on how to play some sort of a full season once this pandemic ends. Commissioner Rob Manfred raised the idea of playing weekly doubleheaders of seven innings, which count as official games under the rulebook. Still, aside from the devoted fan base, having these weekly doubleheaders may worsen the attendance issue in MLB. Devoted baseball fans, or baseball purists like myself, might take issue with having seven-inning games instead of a traditional nine. Most importantly, the players may be opposed to playing eight or more games some weeks with the demanding travel schedule of an MLB team and with an inadequate amount of breaks in the schedule. Playoffs also might be pushed back as far as Christmas, which would not only provide for a weird phenomenon of having winter baseball but also cause the 2021 season to be delayed. This would also very likely mean that the World Series, or even the entirety of the playoffs, would be played at stadiums in the Sun Belt or in domed stadiums. I’ve never liked that the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, and would be opposed to seeing a World Series between, say, the Yankees and Nationals, being played in Dallas or San Diego. Although having World Series games in domed stadiums would allow cities like Seattle to experience what it’s like to host a World Series, it takes away the special playoff atmosphere in a city. Additionally, it further constrains the amount and type of fans able to attend playoff/World Series games. Of course, if COVID-19 weakens by May, it is possible that games could be played without fans. This would admittedly create an eerie atmosphere (like the game played in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots in 2015) and would be financially devastating for owners, but the safety of fans and workers is paramount to financial security for the richest people in this country. Having these fanless games would require cases of COVID-19 to drop significantly before, but would be able to unite the country in a time of crisis and boost MLB’s popularity in the United States.
The issue of COVID-19’s impact on baseball goes far beyond the league’s money-makers in the Major Leagues. Minor leaguers are dealt with
extra financial insecurity in this time of crisis, a problem of income inequality that has existed in times of normalcy. For example, players on the Auburn Doubledays, the Nationals’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, can make as little as $20 per game in their seven-week season. MLB owners promised to pay minor leaguers’ salaries through April 8th, but as baseball will not be played until at least May, MLB needs to step up their game and promise to pay their minor leaguers their salaries, as they do for their major league players. Stories of minor leaguers like Randy Dobnak, who spent his 2019 season playing in the minor leagues while also driving for Uber and Lyft before starting game 2 of the ALDS for the Minnesota Twins, will only be exacerbated. Of course, demand for rideshare services and other “gig jobs” have plummeted during the crisis, as unemployment has skyrocketed. It’s up to MLB and owners to pay their minor leaguers a fair amount to make sure they’re able to get by during this time of crisis.
This also applies to stadium workers. Many athletes, specifically basketball players, have promised to donate some money to keep them afloat. For instance, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans NBA team donated his money to cover the salaries of all arena employees for thirty days. While this selfless act helped employees of the Pelicans’ arena, it should not be up
to the players to donate millions of dollars to help employees. Gayle Benson, the owner of the Pelicans and New Orleans Saints NFL team, is worth $3.1 billion dollars. It’s safe to say that she has some spare change to help out her employees while New Orleans has been one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. The Nationals have donated $1 million to support these workers, but MLB should encourage and require all owners to pay their employees even though games are not taking place. To make matters worse, many employees of the team are contracted through Levy Restaurants (concession stands) and CSC Security (security officers). Neither of these companies have publicly announced that their workers would be compensated, as they receive their pay on a game-by-game basis. Both companies, along with all companies that contract workers to MLB games, should make sure that all employees are paid even in this time of uncertainty.
While it sucks that we aren’t celebrating our Nationals’ return to the diamond today, we should all be glad that MLB is not putting lives at risk by holding games amidst this pandemic. However, Major League Baseball must make sure that every cog in the wheel which makes a season spin is properly compensated while many jobs are at risk. This pandemic is bigger than baseball and bigger than the economy. It’s about the lives of people, and if every MLB employee isn’t properly compensated, then there will be many more people who will be unable to afford many basic requirements in a time like this.