There is war, disease, and the prospect of a nuclear winter, and yet President Joe Biden still wasted an opportunity to raise his voice against the Major League Baseball lockout during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Baseball ranks low on the list of the anxieties that have colonized our minds of late, but the situation cries out for some kind of intervention, because this sporting tragedy reflects so much about the grotesque inequalities that define this country. Baseball is “the national pastime,” and that pastime is being held hostage by 30 billionaires and their hand puppet Commissioner Rob Manfred. This is not the wrangling of “billionaires vs. millionaires,” a bosses’ narrative that much of the mainstream media has dutifully parroted, but a lockout—not a strike, a lockout: The wealthiest parasites in the sport have unilaterally shut down the game. This is so obviously a “bosses’ strike” that it has baseball insiders sounding like Che Guevara. ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote, “If you went and got the next 1,200 best players in the world, the product would suffer greatly. If you handed MLB teams over to any 30 competent businesspeople, the sport would not suffer. Actually, it might improve.”
The billionaires’ justification is that they are “losing money”—a claim that strains credulity, not least because they won’t open their books to either the union or an independent arbitrator. They also say that this is about finding “competitive balance” by imposing de facto salary caps in limiting what can be spent, yet say nothing about creating a salary floor so franchise owners who have been pocketing public funds and cable network cash while disregarding the product on the field will either start spending or sell their teams. No, this is about revenge for the years that the baseball union kicked the bosses’ collective asses. It’s about rage. It’s about a group of people, fronted by Manfred, who love profits more than they love the game. They have now canceled the fabled opening day, at a moment when the league could be offering solace and escape during troubled times.
But the owners in their cosseted isolation don’t care how any of this looks. They are banking on the players’ cracking under the weight of their lost paychecks and shortened careers. All the players have is their own solidarity, and Lord knows we need as many high-profile instances of labor unity in the face of bosses’ greed as we can get. At a moment when Starbucks workers across the country are trying to unite and hold together in the face of union busting, the players have a chance to show the world that solidarity is the only way to win.
Biden might have chosen not to seize on this moment and recognize the importance of what is taking place, but Senator Bernie Sanders has taken a different approach. The baseball-adoring Vermont senator has spoken out, tweeting to his millions of followers, “The 30 Major League Baseball owners are worth over $100 billion. The value of their teams increased by more than $41 billion since they bought them. Mr. Manfred: End the lockout. Negotiate in good faith. Don’t let the greed of baseball owners take away our national pastime.
Sanders both loves and has been scarred by baseball. In 1957, when the Dodgers moved from his Brooklyn hometown to Los Angeles, it taught him a lesson about how greed can triumph over love when plutocrats are given free rein. “I don’t want to tell you that was the sole reason that I’ve developed the politics that I’ve developed,” he said in one interview. “But as a kid, I did see in that case about the greed of one particular company. And that impacted me.” He also once lamented, “It was like they would move the Brooklyn Bridge to California. How can you move the Brooklyn Bridge to California?”
The most prominent democratic socialist in the United States was forever shaped by the removal of his favorite team and the destruction of the holy ground that was Ebbets Field. It makes one wonder just how many hearts are going to be broken—how many perspectives like that of Jeff Passan will be forged—in the spring of 2022 and how many teenage minds will be radicalized from seeing the sport of their dreams turned into a nightmare of shuttered stadiums and the silent sounds of Shohei Otani home-run swings that will go untaken. So much of what once passed for community has been torn asunder over the past 50 years. If baseball and a day at the park is going to be added to the list, let it not go down without a fight. The players should not be slandered as co-conspirators in the destruction of the game. End the bosses’ lockout, and stop the corporate greed ruining baseball.