I've Had It

I couldn't care less whether there's a 2020 baseball season.

There, I've said it.

This despite the fact that I love going to a ballgame. I accept the sappy descriptions about the smell of cut grass of the rich verdant greensward, the awakening of my taste buds from a sizzling red hot smothered in mustard and onions, the beauty of a shortstop going into the hole and throwing a perfect strike to nab the runner by a half-step, and the late-inning home run that puts the home team ahead.

However, with all the other truly horrible and unthinkable events that currently grip our existence, the idea that the baseball lords and their employees can't come together, support one another, and make arrangements to play a simple baseball game if and when it is safe to do so, is beyond my patience.

Millions of people have lost their jobs. Anyone with even a speck of decency has been sickened by the sight of the breath and pulse of an African-American man, George Floyd, being snuffed out on a Minneapolis street by a law enforcement officer. The most dangerous health threat in 100 years has claimed more than 100,000 lives, and the count continues to grow. The vitriol emanating from the highest office in the land would have been unimaginable at any time except for the present.

And you tell me that major league baseball can't manufacture an agreement on how to share the loss of as much as half of the season? Why should we care? Because as White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone recently tweeted, "Our country needs baseball."

Not quite. What we need is compassion, reason, understanding, love, empathy, and a host of other values. Baseball is far down the list.

Would the game be a diversion from our dilemma? Would it provide a respite, a slice of entertainment, a chance to put aside the anxiety of job losses, food shortages, and disease? Only for those among us who are not suffering the worst possible situations.
I find myself personally in that category. I'm going to be alright providing I am free of COVID-19. But losing focus of my fellow citizens whose lives are in turmoil is impossible. I have family and friends who have battled the coronavirus. I read and hear about outstanding people whose lives have been cut short. I see the long lines of families waiting for food to stave off hunger.

Amid these gut-wrenching experiences, the athletes and their bosses continue to quibble over who gets what and how much despite there being an obvious solution. You play half a season, you receive half your salary. The players thought they had that assurance from the owners in late March, but Reinsdorf, Ricketts, and the boys said, "Wait a minute. We can't do that if there aren't fans in the seats."

If you didn't think these guys were creeps before, you might want to reconsider.

How about the hourly wage-earner, the bartenders, restaurant servers, laborers, and millions of others whose income depends solely on how many hours they work? If the 40-hour week is the standard, an individual brings in only half of his or her paycheck for 20 hours. Even the densest owner or ballplayer can understand that math.

Yet they don't seem to be able to digest how their squabbling appears to the exact same people who are scrambling to make ends meet as well as other empathetic folks who are appalled by today's world.

Take a guy like Sox infielder Danny Mendick, a 22nd round draft pick out of UMass-Lowell. The kid is just 26-years-old; he played five minor league seasons and hit .259, just good enough to get a September call-up last season. Mendick made the most of his opportunity, hitting .308 in 39 at bats while playing solid defense. Going into spring training he had a shot at making the Opening Day roster. Even if he began the season at Charlotte, because of injuries or trades, Mendick figured to spend time with the big club this season.

All of which earned the hustling kid a $563,500 contract, the MLB minimum, for 2020. Once again, the math: if the season begins in early July as reported, and the schedule calls for 82 games, Mendick would still collect $281,750. Tell that to my friends, the beer vendors at United Center, Wrigley Field, and Comiskey, I mean, Guaranteed Rate Field who have been idled since March.

The Sox highest paid player, newly-acquired catcher Yasmani Grandal has an $18,250,000 contract, so he'd have to settle for a bit more than $9 million. If you had run those numbers past either Mendick or Grandal, say, five years ago, I'd surmise that each would have been thrilled.

Meanwhile, the whining owners are proposing some kind of deal analogous to a graduated income tax whereby the wealthiest players cough up more than half of their paycheck to subsidize players like Mendick. If that's not a WTF moment, I don't know what is.

Most sources like Forbes state that approximately 30 percent of team revenue comes from ticket sales. Sox revenue last season was $285 million of which $85.5 million was tickets sold.

Tom Ricketts in a phone call to Cub season ticket-holders last week claimed that the Cubs get 70 percent of revenue from game day sales which include more than tickets only. After all, the North Siders own 11 rooftop spaces along with other sources that raise cash 81 games a season. But 70 percent?

If the Ricketts family becomes overly strapped for cash, please keep in mind that their asset is priced at $3.2 billion, about five times what they paid for the Cubs in 2009.

Across town, Reinsdorf's initial $20 million purchase of the White Sox today is priced about half as much as his crosstown compadres, or 80 times what he and his consortium paid for the franchise. What's the over/under on how many sad faces you'd find in the Chicago area if either team was put on the block in these troubled times? Oh, maybe, two or three.

James Earl Jones in his role as Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams said, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Right now there's little good about it.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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