Versatility has proven a trademark of the Tampa Bay Rays, who unleashed super-utility man Ben Zobrist on the baseball world and introduced us to openers.
I doubt they’ll take any credit for Blake Snell’s words and actions Wednesday. Yet the Rays southpaw managed to establish a novel versatility plateau.
Who knew one could exhibit tone deafness while successfully claiming the moral high ground at the same time?
The 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner created a social-media earthquake on Twitch (a live streaming platform for gamers, I learned about five minutes ago) when he checked in regarding the ongoing discussions between players and owners about starting a 2020 season in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. Snell’s money quote, pun intended: “Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go, for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay. I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK? And that’s just the way it is for me.”
Snell never should’ve said that publicly. And no one should ever fault him for feeling this way.
We already know of the disagreement between owners and players on the latter party’s compensation. We get it. Both sides own compelling arguments on their behalf.
To air those arguments for mass consumption, however, aids no one. To the contrary, it hurts everyone.
The United States Department of Labor announced Thursday that nearly three million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, increasing the count to about 36 million in the last two months. The number of COVID-19 deaths in this country stood at over 85,000 as of Thursday morning, with the acknowledgment by universally respected infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci (in Senate testimony Tuesday) that the count is “almost certainly higher” than the official report. It’s horrific. A nightmare.
So pardon the rest of us if we don’t particularly care to hear Snell’s airing of grievances. If we’re offended by his lack of self-awareness the same as when Madonna talks of this disease being “the great equalizer” while she lounges in a bath filled with rose petals.
Now, let’s not conflate the message’s delivery with its content. Snell and his fellow players have every right to wonder whether it would be worth putting themselves in harm’s way for reduced dollars, just as the owners have every right to contemplate whether it would be worth holding fan-less games if they have to pay the players their full (prorated) salaries.
We must stop talking of professional sports as if they represent a civic duty or, during this unprecedented challenge, a test of patriotism. They are businesses like any other. And they clearly do not rank as essential, no matter how badly folks clamor for them. References to past feats of strength by baseball in tough times like World War II or the Sept. 11 terrorist attack ignore the obviousness that no contagious condition lingered in the air at those junctures. And if you’re going to reference baseball soldiering through the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed renowned umpire Silk O’Loughlin, shouldn’t we all agree that they should have been more careful then?
Snell hardly stands alone among the players with these sentiments, and ultimately, the Players Association will hold its internal discussions and possibly a vote to determine how much risk its members want to assume for how much pay. If the two sides find fiscal common ground and obtain government permission to play ball and some players decide to sit out and forfeit their salaries, as Snell told the Tampa Bay Times he’d consider doing, no aspersions need be cast toward them. They owe nothing to no one.
They could do us the favor, though, of not taking up our time and airspace with their low-stakes battle. It’s just a terrible look. If baseball folks want to act upon the courage of their convictions, more power to them — as long as they don’t yammer on about those convictions.
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