Don't Let Politics Ruin Baseball

Not everything has to be political.


Jayson Stark, a longtime baseball writer for ESPN, recently asked whether Major League Baseball players' lack of political involvement is an abdication of their responsibility as citizens. He asked: "Is 2017 the time for a new code of conduct? Is it time for a more socially aware culture—in this, the sport of Jackie Robinson?"

What makes 2017 so special? Well, there's a Republican in the White House, of course, which means the world is on the brink of calamity. So when Stark pens a piece lamenting the lack of political participation in the league of Jackie Robinson, he isn't curious about why more African-American athletes aren't protesting the destructive role of teachers unions in black communities, or why athletes aren't speaking out about the spike in crime in cities controlled by Democrats. He is talking about President Donald Trump. If that were not the case, he would have written something along the same lines in 2010, when the nation was just as divided and the issues it faced were just as contentious.

Stark notes, for instance, that there was a "social media storm" when St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler "dared to express personal concern for his wife's Iranian-born family in the wake of President Donald Trump's travel ban."

Don't get me wrong. That struggle is real. Yet if Fowler, who has a daughter, had "dared" bring up the rampant misogynistic culture that permeates Iran (and most of the Islamic world) when President Barack Obama was striking a deal with that country, the reaction would have been far more consequential than some random fans telling him to stick to baseball. If any baseball player had "dared" to bring up the Obama administration's attacks on religious liberty, we'd doubtlessly be immersed in a very different conversation.

So why wasn't 2008 or 2015 the time for a new code of conduct? Because many writers and pundits fail to appreciate that Americans were just as anxious about the presidency of Barack Obama. This is the conceit of Stark's article, and many others.

Chuck Todd of Meet the Press points out that baseball led the fight against racial injustice. This is true. Stark writes: "Even after 9/11, when baseball played such a vital role in the healing of America, its most important contribution, Todd says, was just to supply 'the normalcy we all needed every day of the week.'"

Yet, inadvertently (I think), Todd is comparing the lawful, constitutional election of a president who has yet to sign a single piece of consequential legislation with these two great American tragedies. So while Stark is merely asking questions, Todd believes baseball has "an opportunity to heal the country, because of the political, ethnic and racial diversity in its locker room."

For one thing, baseball players already provide a wonderful example of American civility. They do this by not incessantly talking about politics. Baseball is a distraction from politics.

How many voters are going to change their ideological views because Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox took a leadership position on, well, whatever it is that Todd believes is dividing Americans? Most voters, I assume, conduct business and relationships with co-workers and family who hold philosophical positions other than their own. Should a cashier at Target or an accountant at H&R Block feel compelled to lecture everyone he or she meets about public policy? What would our communities look like if everyone were an activist? Insufferable, that's what.

Moreover, Major League Baseball's great diversity reflects not only the bravery of Robinson but also his victory. There will never be another Jackie Robinson. We don't need another Jackie Robinson. Baseball already proves that rural whites, Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans and Yankees can all live and play on a team, pull together, aspire to greatness and make a vast amount of money in the process. The ability of diverse people to live peacefully under a free system is the American ideal. Demanding unanimity of opinion is not. In many ways, we still have the former. The latter is what tears us apart.

Perhaps most players realize they've become famous because they can throw and hit, not because they have a position on monetary policy. I'm a free speech absolutist. If baseball players want to complain about Obamacare repeal, that is certainly their prerogative. But they should not be surprised if half the fans react negatively because for fans, baseball is an escape. For players, it is a business.

As one MLB official brimming with common sense told ESPN: "Our role is to provide an environment that's politics-free and controversy-free. I just care about what's best for my team. I don't want to risk losing any fan. I want all our fans to support my team. So I don't think I have the right to take a position that would alienate our customers."

Baseball won't change politics, but politics will ruin baseball.


NEXT: Sessions Scandal, Border Wall, and the Terribleness of Garfield: Matt Welch on Red Eye

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  1. This is silly because baseball already ruined baseball because its baseball.


    1. I don’t like the cut of your jib.

    2. Boringball, amirite?

    3. Agreed. They’ve sped the game up so much I can barely catch my breath before the damn thing is over.

    4. Haven’t watched pro baseball since the baseball strike in the 80s. That sort of killed it for me.

    5. I used to think this until the first time I watched a game from a complimentary corporate sky box with free endless beer and catered food.

      Watch it that way and it’s a whole different game, my friend.

      1. I got hooked up with that once.

        Made me feel like a king. I can see why owners would think the little people need to subsidize such an experience.

      2. Yes, the more time you spend drinking and eating the less time you have to watch the game and the better it becomes

    6. It needs more football

  2. So when is the designated-hitter rule going to be declared unconstitutional? If a pitcher can’t stand in the batter’s box and chat with the umpire and the catcher, does he really have free speech?

    1. It’s Transitional hitter, get PC or get out!

    2. Fuck the Designated Hitter. The American League is not legitimate and plays fake baseball.

    3. I’m shocked the Players Union hasn’t demanded designated hitters for both leagues. Their members are hurt when, near the end of their careers, half the players’ potential employers may not be able to find a place for them on their rosters.

      1. The DH is nothing but protectionism for old one-dimensional players. Oh you can swing a bat, good for you, but that’s not playing baseball. If anything you are hogging up a roster spot for a minor league guy trying to break through.

        The DH is also a safety valve for shitty fucking GMs. How many times have you heard after signing a ridiculous contract, ‘oh well we can just DH him’. Fuck that. If all you can do is play DH, well that’s not baseball at all adn you arn’t a real player. Versatile players are more interesting than one dimensional players anyway

        1. I guess you could say the same about the demise of playing both offense and defense in football. For the record, I’m for eliminating the DH too. Nothing like seeing a good rally killed because the pitcher never learned how to lay down a bunt.

          1. Or in the Giants case, Bumgarner hits a grand slam instead.

            Pitchers don’t have to be bad at hitting. It’s even more awesome when they are good at hitting

            1. Here’s the problem: even the good hitting pitchers are objectively bad at it. Madison Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher of his generation he’s got a career OPS+ of 50. 50! The guy hits .247 and wins a Silver Slugger but nobody cares because hitting like a replacement level shortstop is so far above and beyond expectations. And for all the smoke we blow up his ass, you know what being the best hitting pitcher gets his team in terms of excess value? One measly win per year.

              The DH is the preferred mode of baseball throughout the world. It’s what baseball is nowadays. Personally, I wish they’d loosen the rules up on it so it can be applied to other positions. Got Bumgarner for a start? DH your all-glove backup SS. Creativity and competence are what make sports entertaining. Let’s get some more of both.

              1. This is why you can’t politicize baseball. Any discussion always devolves into a debate about the DH.

              2. I think you actually can do that in college ball. Our school has a pitcher who is quite possibly the best hitter in college baseball (Luken Baker). On the days he pitched, he batted as well. I think they used the DH to replace the SS.

                *This season he plays 1B.

          2. I guess you could say the same about the demise of playing both offense and defense in football.

            The constant drive towards specialization in football has always really bugged me. Honestly, I didn’t mind so much when it was just splitting into offense and defense; but the players who are only used when it’s 3rd and 8 and it’s a quarter moon on the 4th Sunday crap is just bullshit. All started with the damn nickel backs.

            George Blanda is rolling in his grave.

            1. Sammy Baugh had the greatest single season performance by a pro football player in 1943 when he led the league in passing, punting (45.9-yard average) and defensive interceptions (11).

  3. It’s a shame to see Harsanyi slumming it here. He is way better than this site.

    Yes, the media has NO idea that A LOT of people didn’t agree with Obama because, well, we were all “racists” anyway, so it did not matter.

    Hasn’t ESPN already driven off ENOUGH viewers to expect other groups to do the same? I’ve learned, over the last 2 years, it is amazingly easy to get thru life and never, ever watch sports. More will join.

    1. He is way better than this site.

      Better than you, then.

      1. Yup. You as well.

      2. I wish I could use fire emojis here because that is one sick burn! Well done, DanO. Here, have a GIF.

    2. Why not just watch sports but avoid all talk about sports? That works for me.

    3. ESPN never would have tried this when they still had NASCAR.

      1. ESPN are all proggies, every one of them, and no I am not a collectivist, just speaking troof to power.

    4. Harsanyi didn’t write this article for this site, I’ve seen it published elsewhere as well. It would be a silly thing for an author to refuse to have a site publish his work so long as they didn’t edit it and didn’t have an editorial position the author felt was reprehensible.

  4. This has nothing to do with journalists wishing the players would opine about the issue of the day and everything to do with sports journos everywhere panting/salivating like a bitchs in heat about getting an opportunity to opine and subject their readership to their politics on the issue of the day. Politics ruins everything.

    1. Politics do ruin everything, and there’s a certain subset that need to cram that round peg into the square hole of life everywhere, all the time.

      HBO has been showing a documentary about the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was playing a theatre in Paris in November 2015 when terrorists killed 90 or so at the show. In the film, the band is back in Paris 3 months later to play a show, the first show of theirs after the massacre. The lead sing does an interview with Paris TV, his first one since the event. The guy is clearly emotionally devastated and brittle. What’s the second question of the interview? “Has this event led you to think about gun control?” (or some derivation thereof). The interviewer waited a whole one question before politically grandstanding. I don’t think the interviewer got the response she hoped for, though…

      1. don’t think the interviewer got the response she hoped for, though…

        I would have walked out.

    2. Virtue signaling.

  5. “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

  6. I won’t get you wrong, Dave. This one is pretty simple.

    What he means is “You people who have a place of prominence need to use that position to bolster political positions and parties that I support”.

    See how easy that is? There is no ideological inconsistency. The missing clue was “you have to support whatever I like”. Once you plug that into the equation all of these hypocritical moments just evaporate.

  7. baseball led the fight against racial injustice

    *rolls eyes so far up they swivelled all the way round*

  8. Sportwriters and other progressive pieces of shit will ruin baseball like they ruin everything else. Look at what happened in football this last year. They just can’t separate politics from non-political life. I’m sure these people can’t even have a fucking garage sale without browbeating or social signalling their progressive values

    1. Was football ruined? I missed that one.

      1. Totally ruined. You might even say “Fucking” ruined. Proggies have ruined my life, I tell ya what.

  9. Sportwriters and other progressive pieces of shit will ruin baseball like they ruin everything else. Look at what happened in football this last year. They just can’t separate politics from non-political life. I’m sure these people can’t even have a fucking garage sale without browbeating or social signalling their progressive values

    1. will ruin baseball like they ruin everything else. Look at what happened in football this last year.

      Saying it twice doesn’t make it any truer.

      Like someone unwrapping a cough drop in a concert/theater, it only ruins it if you let that be your focus instead of focusing on the performance.

      1. I blame the squirrelz

  10. “in this, the sport of Jackie Robinson”
    According to my history books, baseball was played before Jackie Robinson. He was a player, not an owner. How do you characterize baseball as “his” sport?
    Does standing in respect for the National Anthem count as political involvement? Or is it not worthy because it is not rabid left wing? Does contributing millions of dollars to charities of all types not count as political involvement?
    Seems to me someone is defining political involvement as rabid support for my party over all else.
    But then, baseball is a sport best watched with the ESPN volume turned all the way down. It is possible to figure out what is happening without all the distractions.

    1. ESPN is fucking terrible in everything they do. I have the MLB App and pay $20 a month to get the audio so I can listen to the Giants radio broadcasters, because everything on ESPN is fucking terrible.

      SJW network going into the garbage drain can’t happen fast enough

      1. Damn, somebody needs a safe space or a time out or whatever the proggies are calling their snowflake sanctuaries these days.

        1. SJWs need safe spaces, everyone else has choices. And the results speak for themselves. ESPN is losing million of subscribers and the NFL ratings have been significantly down this past season.

          1. Where the NFL numbers down at the end of the season? Asking because I never saw the final nubmers. They have to compete with 2 of the debates and I remember that hurt them. Plus causation and correlation. Just because their numbers are down it could be because of the poor product and nothing to do with outspoken individuals. I know I have lost interest since the NFL can’t figure out what a touchdown is and throw flags on every play.

    2. I would like to know who Jackie Robinson voted for. Truman or Dewey.

      1. He was a Republican, so…

  11. I’m glad the sports I watch limit this crap largely to bumper-stickers like “end racism” and “yay diversity”. Most of the rest of the world isn’t in the same league as the US when it comes to navel gazing, either.

  12. Jayson Stark, a longtime baseball writer for ESPN

    This has nothing to do with baseball, everything to do with ESPN. ESPN is getting to be a sports network in the mold of MTV being a music channel.

    1. What bothers me is that I’m forced to watch it and pay for it. This is what happens when we have Open Networks.

      1. And you fucking idiots didn’t recognize Bo when he appeared again. Way to go.

  13. Stay out of sports you assholes! They are the last bastion of merit based achievement on the planet.

    1. queue my SJW friends suddenly liking Kaepernick, even though he is broken as a football players and is no longer a starter. Because politics matters more than performance

  14. I agree with the entire article. Let me add a few things though. A lot depends on how you ask the question.

    Are they obligated to speak? Of course not. I remember articles written about how Tom Brady was obligated to explain more about how he felt about Trump. No one should be compelled say something they don’t want to. EVER!

    Should they? Regardless of whether it’s Obama, Trump, or anyone else, I think so. Athlete or not, famous or not, I would hope more people would speak up when they felt they had something to say. I don’t care how stupid it is. I mean, have you heard the idiots who are actually deciding things? More conversation is important. And few people can hide behind not having an opinion, because we all bitch about something.

    Should they do it when they’re working? No! Please don’t. As the article said, baseball is a welcome distraction from politics while it’s happening. But in your free time, feel free, and hopefully we can try and not confuse the two. Wishful thinking, yes, but all life is effort, so why not try.

    Lastly, none of this should take place in the context of “healing the nation”. Few things about the election annoy me more than the losers thinking most of this nation is inconsolable. By Wednesday afternoon after the election, most people had moved on. Little of what’s being debated right now has anything to do with what comes next, and everything to do with being “inconsolable” about what happened four months ago.

  15. Yeah, just what we need, a bunch of meat head entertainers that can hit, run, and throw a small projectile well, spouting off ill conceived notions about socioeconomic issues and international relations.

  16. “Don’t Let Politics Ruin Baseball”

    For one thing, baseball players already provide a wonderful example of American civility. They do this by not incessantly talking about politics. Baseball is a distraction from politics.

    Indeed. John Rocker, Curt Schilling… models of civility who do not do politics.

    Say, how about cutting a break for scientists? Fuck baseballers.

    1. fuck off, troll

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  18. On the flip side, I imagine the same reporters wouldn’t have been happy if Cuban players were complain about Obama’s Cuban policy restricting refugees.

    Cuban defectors being fairly common in baseball and I guess that’s no longer going to be a thing. Instead Castro will rent them out, give them $30 a month and keep the millions.

  19. When will this NFL have a Tran-sexual quarterback? To this day this bigoted organization has excluded such individuals from the position. The proof is simple, there have been none to date. I cannot in good conscience watch the game until this is done. I will take a week long visit of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders as a partial apology to keep me satisfied until the above question has been answered.

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  21. I’m fed up with people claiming that baseball is “boring”. Watching any sport when you don’t understand the strategy looks like chaos that is either too fast or too slow.

    If you don’t understand why you never throw a second fastball over the plate to a hitter who just fouled your first pitch straight back to the screen then of course you’ll find baseball boring. In baseball you have to think two to four innings ahead all the time which is why it is probably the most statistically driven sport in the world.

    I don’t understand the strategy of soccer so it looks to me like a bunch of guys running around on grass kicking something that they are afraid to touch with their hands. I’m sure that some soccer enthusiast just went ballistic because he sees a totally different game than I do and his criticism of me is completely valid.

    So when you find a sport boring talk to an enthusiast and see what you’re missing. You may still find the game boring but at least you’ll understand why some other people don’t.

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