The other day, speaking to a veteran player representative, I emphasized that I try not to be naive, try not to be corny, but that I thought baseball needed a hero right now. Someone who both players and owners trusted to broker a resolution. Someone who could make them see a bigger picture of what was good for the game.
And I told the representative, sadly, that I did not see that person within the game, in politics, in business.
But watching the unrest in the country brought a recognition that I was shooting too low with my bigger picture — what was good for the game. This is no time to be myopic. Not when coronavirus has killed more than 100,000, disproportionately raining death on African-Americans. Not when a police officer in 2020 can still drop his knee into another man’s neck draining George Floyd’s life while three other officers look on and we have to wonder if justice will prevail.
The hero we need is Jackie Robinson, and baseball — owners, players, representatives, executives — must embrace the most important person in its history not just to solve its squabble, but to again be an agent of change for the nation.
There is so much wrong with our game — our national pastime — but breaking the color line in 1947 is a triumph. There were people on the wrong side of that issue then and history exposed their irrational hatred and fear and stupidity. History will do the same to anyone now trying to find some other-siderism to how brutally we police, incarcerate and treat people of color in this country.
Consider that if we watched a police officer in France or Russia or Brazil put his knee into an American citizen’s neck on their soil and kill him while three of his comrades looked on, we collectively as a nation would be ready to go to war with that country. Especially if such abuses had taken place over and over for centuries. Especially if we appreciated that if this one was caught on camera, how many of these atrocities are not? So how is there not 100-percent cohesion in the United States that this MUST STOP?
It is not going to end without people of influence making relentless demands until real change happens. It is not going to stop without real money backing the best of our angels against devils who would mislead, misdirect and find justification in brutalizing our own citizens.
So this is where MLB comes in. This is where Jackie Robinson’s legacy should matter.
How about the owners and players — in Robinson’s name — agree to something along the lines of the following: That the players will play for 50 percent of their prorated salaries this year and that the other 50 percent will be donated jointly from the two sides to mutually agreed upon organizations that fight for equality, that support the most vulnerable in our society, that need dollars earmarked specifically for them in the areas of health and science.
This is hundreds of millions of dollars. Do it over 10 years so if owners are really having short-term cash flow issues it does not get in the way of the long-term good. Do it in the name and lingering importance and values of Jackie Robinson.
Who says no to this?
Maybe MLB can’t play anyway in 2020 because the coronavirus ultimately will not allow it — everyone should be concerned that the sardine-jammed protests will foster new waves and that two Japanese baseball players tested positive already and that there has been a new Ebola outbreak in the Congo.
But MLB is not at an impasse because of the virus. The two sides can find common ground on safety measures to at least try to play. This is about money. So put the disputed money to better use and rise to a better place together.
There is much imperfect with baseball, including poor representation of people of color in roles from manager to owner. But what Robinson withstood in threat and hatred has produced on the field as close to meritocracy as we get in society. I would never say bias is 100-percent dead, but largely skin color, nation or origin; none of that matters much. If you can play, you can play and you do play.
MLB can showcase that. The sport could have its most prominent voices not only thanking our first responders and medical personnel that are risking so much during this pandemic, but we can see Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge and Hyun-jin Ryu and Masahiro Tanaka and Mike Trout kneeling in solidarity, offering words of unity and mostly showing how seamlessly people from so many different backgrounds can work together for a common good. You know, showing not only the best of our national pastime, but of our nation.
We need a hero to get there.
I offer the best hero not just in our game, but one of the most important in American history.