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Baseball healed a city once. It could help heal America now.

MLB has a chance to be a unifying force in America. They shouldn’t blow this opportunity.

The 1968 Detroit Tigers
Getty Images

Generally, when I put a disclaimer on an article I place it at the bottom. Today, I am making the disclaimer the first thing you read, and you’ll no doubt see why shortly. While the BCB rule prohibiting political commentary has been relaxed to some extent during the pandemic and related events, I am making this plea to you, the BCB reader: Please do not make politically-oriented comments of a partisan nature after reading this article. Any such comments will be removed without notice. Thank you.

Monday, I wrote an appeal to everyone in baseball to not blow up the entire 2020 season over petty money disputes. This came after the Major League Baseball Players Association had made a counteroffer to a MLB owners proposal for playing this year. It seemed a first step toward compromise, a word that appears to have lost meaning for many in modern society.

Late Monday, reports of an owners proposal that could have had a season as short as 50 games surfaced, and I thought about writing about that, it seemed that maybe a framework for compromise could be at hand.

And then I saw news reports of the protests in the streets of the United States of America, and damage done to American cities by looters who seemed to have little to do with the reason for the protests; the looters seemed to simply be wanting to take advantage of the situation and steal some things.

It made me concerned for the future of this country, never mind baseball.

And then I thought of the 1968 Detroit Tigers.

After some years of contention, the Tigers had lost a heartbreakingly close pennant race in 1967, falling short on the season’s final day.

Also in 1967, protests, riots and looting had broken out in the streets of Detroit and other American cities. The reasons for that weren’t all that much different than the things causing the protests in the streets today. The atmosphere in Detroit was still tense as 1968 began, and then the Tigers helped unite the city:

Mel Butsicaris is the son of Johnny Butsicaris, who was the founder of Detroit’s original sports bar, the Lindell AC. He remembers an iconic moment that happened the following year

“In the spring of 1968, Detroiters were still reeling from the effects of the ’67 riots. And everyone was focused on racial divisions within the city; the whole town seemed to be walking on eggshells. We needed something to bring us together, instead of pulling us apart

“And then, our prayers were answered: the ’68 Detroit Tigers! That team united our city when we needed it most. When the baseball season began, black and white folks weren’t speaking to each other. But then the entire town began to focus on the Tigers’ winning season, and Detroiters discovered common ground

“The Tigers weren’t just winning ball games—they enjoyed each other’s company on and off the field. They set an example of how to work, live, and play together. By the Fourth of July, it didn’t matter what neighbourhood you lived in, people were cheering, “Sock it to ’em, Tigers!” More than anything else, that rallying cry helped heal our city through the summer of 1968, the people of Detroit united by their passion for the Tigers and the calming radio voice of Tigers broadcaster, Ernie Harwell

Now, I am well aware that the issues facing us in 2020 are far greater than they were in 1968. I am also aware that baseball’s place in America in 2020 isn’t what it was in 1968.

And then I saw this photo and I began thinking that perhaps baseball in 2020 could indeed be a part of healing our society.

Baseball has been part of the heart and soul of America for many, many years. Many books have been written about this and it’s not my purpose here to review or rehash all of that.

But I am going to say this: Baseball owners and players have a unique opportunity in the year 2020. Come back and play baseball, even in empty ballparks, and perhaps people can find a way to come together over something that’s been loved here for generations. No, baseball won’t solve every problem that’s being protested. I know that. There are issues larger than the sport and it will take time and thought and much effort to solve them.

But perhaps baseball can help nudge things in the right direction.

Now, back to the efforts to play baseball this year.

Major League players over the weekend suggested a 114-game season with prorated salaries and some salary deferrals. Monday, owners responded with a proposal that could have a season of 50 games with those full prorated salaries. Obviously, with fewer games, there’d be less money paid, but guess what? The midpoint between 50 games and 114 is... 82, which is the number of games previously proposed. Think there could be some sort of deal to be had here?

Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported that an even shorter season, 48 games (!), is being proposed by owners. Here’s why:

Over a 48-game season at full prorated salaries, the players would be paid $1.206 billion. Under the owners’ previous proposal, the players would’ve netted $1.236 billion for an 82-game season.

That 82-game slate would’ve paid players an average of 50% of their already prorated salaries as well as an additional $200 million if an entire postseason was held. That offer can’t be enforced by Manfred because it didn’t include fully prorated salaries.

Why not play the 82-game season, then, with everything past (around) $1.2 billion in full prorated salaries deferred, perhaps to 2022 or 2023 when (presumably) life will be back to normal and fans will return to ballparks?

There’s a framework to play real baseball in these competing proposals somewhere. Owners and players, as I wrote Monday, should see what’s at stake — perhaps the entire future of the sport. Let me make it clear that I’m fully on the players’ side here. While it’s clear that baseball is going to lose a significant amount of money this year with no revenue from fans in ballparks, I believe the billionaires can afford this one-year loss, especially if the alternative is risking the game’s entire future. To put it in marketing terms, owners should think of any 2020 season as a “loss leader” to keep the business going.

And to return to my original point here, I do believe that baseball, even though it’s not as central a part of American society as it was 50 years ago, has a chance to help in the healing of our collective being. Sports are always a way to bring people together. Baseball owners should be well advised to understand that and to do whatever they can to get players back on the field, and soon. Am I being too idealistic here? Maybe. But isn’t it worth a try?

Get it done. Hearing the words “Play ball” could be a good first step in helping make things better for all of us.