Welcome to the 27th edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
Our global pandemic continues to ebb and flow as scientists struggle to gain a foothold in the struggle against COVID-19. Baseball remains shelved indefinitely, though the league continues to explore potential avenues to resume play. No one knows when this will end, but when it does, we may look back and say that baseball saved America.
I know that idea sounds both figurative and hyperbolic, but there could actually be some truth to it.
Our Main Story
Researches are embarking on the first and largest coronavirus antibody study in the U.S., and the subjects of that study will be none other than MLB team employees.
I say that because Molly Knight reported the following in her article over at The Athletic:
Ten thousand employees of 27 of the league’s 30 clubs have volunteered to take part in what researchers from Stanford, USC and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory are calling the COVID-19 Sero Prevalence Study, an MLB spokesman confirmed. The antibody test does not look for active COVID-19 infection, but rather the presence of a specific blood protein the human body produces in response to it.
This is highly noteworthy on so many levels. First, there has been an overwhelming, united effort on the part of everyone to mitigate the dangerous impact of this pandemic. Whether it involves wearing a mask in public places like grocery stores or staying at home to prevent the spread of illness, all of it has helped. To think that baseball could provide the missing ingredient in fighting this viral outbreak is quite an astonishing thought.
While it’s true that the season remains on hiatus (more on that later), we can be hopeful that this collaborative study involving baseball employees will provide researchers with the blood proteins necessary to more effectively fight this deadly virus.
Imagine for a moment that it does, and it truly might. We would look back at this Prevalence Study and remember how baseball saved us all.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time baseball has come to the rescue during our dire times of need. We forget that the golden era of baseball featuring legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig ran parallel to the Great Depression, a time marked by strife where more than four million Americans found themselves unemployed and the average wage for the American worker dipped more than 50% at the time.
During World War II, President Roosevelt wrote his “Green Light” letter urging MLB to keep playing for the morale of American citizens. A small minority felt it wasn’t fair or just that able-bodied men should stay home and play a game while others went off to way. However, The Sporting News published views of servicemen supporting Roosevelt’s directive. Private John E Stevenson wrote, “Baseball is part of the American way of life. Remove it and you remove something from the lives of American citizens, soldiers and sailors.”
Who could forget the All-American Girls Professional League keeping the game at the forefront of the public’s eye during the war, as well. The league pioneered women’s sports in many ways, inspiring the 1992 film A League of Their Own. In fact, that film brought us arguably the most famous baseball line ever uttered in a baseball movie.
Furthermore, whether it be national tragedies like 9/11, which saw the battered city of New York band behind the Yankees as they vanquished the 116-game winning Seattle Mariners in the playoffs, or the Boston Marathon bombing which saw the Red Sox rally the city to be “Boston Strong” as they cruised to an inspired World Series title (more on that later, too), baseball has been there to help us through dire straits.
I must admit, however, that it is rather interesting thinking about ballplayers getting stuck with needles today in the hopes of helping to save the nation in the fight against COVID-19, and our prevailing praise for the act, while so many still shun the ballplayers who got stuck with needles during the steroid era while simultaneously, even if inadvertently, helping to save baseball in the fight against declining ratings.
I suppose it’s where you’re sticking the needle that counts.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
The reality is this: since there is no baseball, finding “the best in baseball” becomes a difficult task. Nonetheless, there are some things to discuss.
Let’s start with when baseball will actually come back.
According to Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic, the “Arizona Plan” has been expanded already by MLB, and a proposal is being explored that involves starting the season in three states (Arizona, Florida, and Texas). There’s also the possibility of playing in five states, or even close to a dozen depending on what experts and the government advises moving forward.
With the possibility of states opening up, baseball is considering expanding upon the "Arizona Plan."@Ken_Rosenthal joins @kevinburkhardt to discuss the latest: pic.twitter.com/ikky7gzYMT
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 24, 2020
All we know is that we don’t know. And by that, I mean things are changing, seemingly by the day, so next week could bring entirely new wrinkles to the plan. For now, there is no baseball. Despite that, MLB has agreed to keep playing league employees at least through the end of May, and teams have followed suit.
The Cincinnati Reds have joined the teams committed to paying baseball operations employees through May 31, sources tell ESPN. Among the teams known to have made similar commitments: the Braves, Phillies, Giants, White Sox and Marlins. More are expected to do so in coming days.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 20, 2020
It’s nice to see MLB and these teams doing a solid. However, with revenues all but wiped out right now, there were bound to be some unfortunate casualties.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
A new agreement has minor league baseball poised to see 42 teams lose their big league affiliations. This means more than 1,000 team employees and players will lose jobs and opportunities.
MiLB is read to agree to the gutting terms that MLB has laid out for them: https://t.co/LkKReXV6JP
— MLB Daily Dish (@mlbdailydish) April 21, 2020
Yes, the structure will be tighter with an equal number of affiliates for each MLB club, more efficient travel schedules, and the PR-friendly announcement that minor league players will get paid more, even if it comes at the expense of fewer jobs for other players.
It’s almost as if MLB invited MiLB to the negotiating table and made it look like a party to celebrate what should be a new and improved relationship, and then the entire affair went something like this:
Cold-blooded? An opportunistic power grab? A necessary and inevitable consequence? No matter how you look at it, whenever there is economical turmoil, there will always be those who lose and find themselves embroiled in hardship and turmoil… and those who try to buy the New York Mets.
JUST IN | Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez want to buy the Mets. https://t.co/Mz2XYqnwb8
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) April 21, 2020
One final note regarding league affairs these days. MLB finally got around to concluding its investigation into the Boston Red Sox cheating scandal after handing down punishments for the Astros for the same nefarious behavior.
BREAKING: MLB releases punishment in Red Sox investigation.
• Loss of second-round pick in 2020.
• Replay employee J.T. Watkins suspended.
• Alex Cora banned through end of 2020 season.
• No players punished.
Full details ➡️ https://t.co/gDwzLFpZ6w pic.twitter.com/e7ajmTLHSz
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) April 22, 2020
Or, to be more concise, this (turn on the volume for this one):
MLB’s punishment on the Boston Red Sox pic.twitter.com/la4Ab2izOC
— TroutSZN (@TroutSzn) April 22, 2020
It’s really hard to be stuck at home without baseball these days. At least we still have Joe Kelly.
Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly was practicing his changeup and…😂
(via @ashleynicokelly) pic.twitter.com/wtOywVg2bB
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 16, 2020
That’s the ballgame for this week! Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you all next week!
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
A few questions regarding MiLB.
1. How many levels of MiLB equivalents do other professional sports have? Seems like baseball has a lot more than all others (R, A-, A, A+, AA, and AAA).
2. How many other sports have lower level affiliates where some teams have multiple affiliates at the same level while others have only one (some MLB teams have more than one affiliate at certain levels of MiLB)?
3. Is it possible that MLB is just trying to adjust an inequity that is unlike any other sport and this truly will open a window for MiLB players to receive higher compensation?
I really enjoy reading your articles.
Great questions, Dave.
Baseball is unique in that the players they draft from high school and college go through a farm system before reaching the big leagues. When the NFL drafts players, the league only takes them from college and players enter the league immediately. The NFL would actually benefit from a “farm system” (i.e. letting players from college spread systems learn for a year or two in a pro style environment to become more familiar with route running, fundamentals, and more complex play design). However, the shelf-life of an NFL player is considerably shorter than it is in other sports due to its high contact nature. Thus, pro teams want to maximize the window of elite production they can get out of their draft picks. Furthermore, in the American Hockey League and the ECHL, teams act as a development farm system for the major league and the players are represented by the Professional Hockey Players’ Association. While players are often sent between major and minor league teams, the teams themselves are never promoted or relegated. Basketball has a similar structure if I recall.
Is MLB just trying to adjust an inequity? In some ways, perhaps so. Does each team need nearly 6 levels of developmental tiers before players are ready for the big leagues?
Check out this link to see how many minor league rosters there are for each team: https://www.milb.com/about/affiliations
Some MLB teams have two or even three (R) rosters before Single-A. Baseball is a difficult game to play at the highest level, so there is an argument that the more players you have in your farm system, the greater the odds of finding quality regulars. Reducing that pool further depresses your hit rate, in theory. Will it result in long overdue higher compensation for minor league players? Yes. However, it also results in less opportunities for young ballplayers who dream of playing professionally. The tradeoff is somewhat of a Catch-22.
Thanks for engaging! Glad you enjoy the articles. I’ll keep doing my part to produce fresh content!