By Tammy Rainey
2018 has been a tumultuous year for Major League Baseball off the field.
From the arrest of Roberto Osuna for domestic violence to the string of players who were discovered to have tweeted out hateful and bigoted comments years before they hit the majors, events have served to give notice to the Commissioner's office and all 30 front offices that the sport needs to catch up to current events and, indeed, get out in front of controversial subjects rather than acting in a reactionary fashion.
In the same vein, there are other things that it is past time for the sport to be forward leaning about, including the role of women at all levels of the game from the broadcast booth to the coaching staff to the playing field, the ongoing stigma against LGBTQ persons (that needs more than a yearly pride night to address) and the travesty that is the minor league pay structure for players.
While some of these subjects are still fresh in the public conversation and not far from the minds of baseball executives, I offer an open letter to decision makers in the sport of baseball at all levels with a modest proposal:
To all those involved,
I take it as a given that you all share the concerns of much of the public about the recent newsmaking controversies involving domestic violence and social media behavior. Likewise I’m sure that to varying degrees you have people tasked to address a wide range of off the field issues. I would like to suggest to you all, as a member of the public not directly involved in the sport save as a fan, that the public perception of this interest however is that it is a defensive, reactionary, stance rather than a proactive one.
It's an unfortunate reality, and all the more so in our highly connected society, particularly for an entertainment industry that much of what positive you might accomplish in any task is intricately connected to the public perception of those actions.
Therefore I propose that you consider a broad based “Blue Ribbon Committee,” involving representation from every party concerned with organized baseball, to discuss a comprehensive agenda for how baseball will look and behave outside the lines moreso than inside in the 21st century. By this I mean representation of players in the majors, the minors, in college, and even retired players, managers and coaches from all levels, team executives, broadcasters, writers, and more. I would go so far as to suggest Dale Murphy as a chairperson (his recent blog post about the perils of social media for the sport was very insightful and demonstrates a keen understanding of the issue.
Active players like Sean Doolittle and Justin Verlander have spoken clearly and insightfully. Writers like Christina Kahrl executives like Billy Bean and Kim Ng, staff like Nikki Huffman can and should bring a diverse input.
Voices which have perhaps not been welcome in the past, issues that may seem difficult to reconcile, must be dealt with if the sport is going to reach its fullest potential in the decades ahead.
The time is past for defending “the way it’s always been,” and only being dragged grudgingly forward when there’s no other option left. For example, surely you know as we all do how terrible it looked for billionaire owners to go to Congress for a bill to protect their right to underpay minor leaguers.
Whatever the reasons you may feel compelled you to avoid the minimum wage calculations, surely you must realize the light it cast you in every time the fans are reminded how little those athletes are paid. So find a way, it won’t cost you so very much if indeed any at all to go above and beyond what the law would have required and fairly reward the efforts of these young men.
Simple math would suggest that, for example, one more dollar on every major league ticket would provide more than enough to do this without affecting the bottom line profits. And you’d be seen by every fan as doing more than you had to do, not less than you should.
That same desire - to lead out rather than hold back, ought to inform every hard discussion that such a committee would address. Where can more money help? Where can more education make a difference? Where would a culture shift change the dynamic? The sport has never been more financially successful than it is now and there’s no sign of a reversal in those fortunes. The time is now to be bold, be creative, and take the grand old game that exists between the lines into the new century outside them. The first step is an open, frank, and wide-ranging discussion of what that looks like by people who are not afraid of change. The future, as they say, is now.