American Giants

“There are only three things that America will be remembered for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization. The Constitution. Jazz music. And Baseball. These are the three most beautiful things this culture has ever created.”

— Gerald Early

Someone sent me a newspaper clip the other day about a speech I gave at Kansas State University 15 or so years ago. (Yeah, I’ve given speeches, what of it?). The clip mentioned that I was in the process of writing a book about Buck O’Neil that would be called “Baseball and Jazz: A summer with Buck O’Neil.”

I had forgotten that was the original title of my first book The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America. In memory, I was the only one in the publishing circle (or among any of our friends) who liked the title “Baseball and Jazz,” but looking back, I still like it. I agree entirely with the great Gerald Early. I think that the Constitution, jazz, and baseball are the three greatest American things.

And Buck O’Neil embodied all three of them.

I have thought a lot about Buck the last three weeks while finding myself in the middle of one of the craziest rides of my life. I hope you’ve been following along. Three weeks ago, Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendrick approached me and my Passions in America partner Dan McGinn with a germ of an idea. For a decade at least, Bob has had this notion — and it was often nothing more than a notion — that it would be wonderful to have Major League Baseball players tip their caps to the men and women who played in the Negro Leagues.

It seems a pretty small request … but being perfectly blunt, it never really went anywhere. There are numerous reasons for this … but that’s a story for another time. The point here is that this year, finally, it was scheduled to happen. This is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City, and MLB, along with the MLB Players Association, agreed that something special was in order. In February, they made a joint donation of $1 million to the museum. And they promised a special Salute to the Negro Leagues day at which point, yes, every ballplayer would step out of the dugout and tip his cap. The day was set for June 27.

Then came a global pandemic.

So Bob asked us if we might be able to create something sort of like we did with the photo campaign where we asked people to send in a photograph of something that is bringing them joy. So we told him we’d take a crack at it. We had no budget, literally, zero dollars (I bought the website tippingyourcap.com with my own money). We had no technical support. We had no partners (I run the website with the help of my two daughters). We had no staff other than a handful of wonderful people who volunteered to help. We had almost no time.

Together we created “Tip Your Cap 2020.”

It has been one of the great joys of my life.

Over the last week, the four living former presidents all tipped their caps to the Negro Leagues. Four generations of Jackie Robinson’s family tipped their caps to the Negro Leagues. Henry Aaron. Magic Johnson. Billie Jean King. Mike Trout. Clayton Kershaw. A dozen Baseball Hall of Famers. Celebrities galore. Politicians across aisles — Tim Scott to Chuck Schumer to Ben Carson to Maggie Hassan — tipped their caps.

Along with thousands and thousands of people.

Heck, THIS happened:

Also this happened:

I mean, THIS happened (I realize I already mentioned the former presidents but still):

The three big morning shows not only did stories about this but also tipped their caps. CBS Evening News did a big feature on the Negro Leagues Thursday night and we have just heard that they will be be doing an even bigger version of the story this weekend. Chuck Todd ended “Meet the Press” by tipping his cap. Stories appeared in virtually every newspaper and on every Website in the country.

All along there have been so many incredible, zany, surreal moments — many you can find on that crazy family-run website tippingyourcap.com.

It is still going — the campaign will run until July 23 (which we hope will be baseball Opening Day) — and every day now, we get inquiries from people who want to help, new photos and videos are being sent in and posted on social media, we see wonderful things like the from a bakery in the Philadelphia suburbs:

I have to tell you: I’m in awe. I remember so many years ago when I went to lunch with Buck O’Neil at The Peachtree restaurant (which was then a couple of doors down from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — it is no longer in business, sadly). At some point in the middle of the meal, Buck started telling me that somebody needed to write a story about the Negro Leagues as it actually was.

He said that the story had been written as an American shame, which it was — there never should have been the Negro Leagues because there never should have been segregation in baseball. He said the story had been written as a righteous struggle, which it was — the players endured countless humiliations (and daily double- and triple-headers) to play the game they loved. He said the story had been written as history, which it was — the Negro Leagues are a remarkable American history story and an often overlooked part of the civil rights struggle.

But Buck said somebody should write about how the Negro Leagues REALLY WERE with all the color and light and joy and passion and ferocity and brilliance spotlighted. And he said it just like that, somebody needs to write this story, somebody needs to tell it, somebody

… and I was the only one there.

I tried to do it with The Soul of Baseball. It was my first book, and I undoubtedly made a million first book mistakes, but I put everything I had into it. Buck never got the chance to see it. The last time I saw him, he was in a hospital bed, and I told him I had finished the book, and he asked me to come back again and read it to him. He died days later.

I think he would have liked the book … but in many ways I believe this week, and whatever is coming over the next three weeks with Tip Your Cap 2020, is an even more fitting tribute to him. Across America, people are talking about the Negro Leagues. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler is quoting Satchel Paige. Rob Lowe is talking about how he will never forget those great players. Reggie Jackson is talking about how he needs to get to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum “before it gets too late for my butt.”

The original cast of the off-Broadway hit “Toni Stone” offers a tribute:

It goes on and on and on … I cannot wait to wake up each morning to see what is next. It’s all so wonderful, so inspiring, so beautiful. I know Buck is smiling.

Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues

Apologies for being silent for a couple of weeks … but I’ve been working night and day on something amazing and, I think, important and beautiful. I hope you’ll want to be a part of it, and I hope you’ll encourage others to be a part of it, and I hope you’ll help turn this thing into an extraordinary success.

You can read all about it here at The Athletic.

You can check out the early version of the website.

Or you can just read on. I want to make this as easy as possible.

We are calling the campaign: “Tip your cap to the Negro Leagues.”

The idea is basically as straightforward as the title. This year is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues. In 1920, a group of men met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City to create a new baseball league, one where the best African-American and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers could play the game they loved and demonstrate the brilliance they had developed over their lives.

This was 27 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier — and that was (as Buck O’Neil always used to say), seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, 14 years before the Freedom Riders rode through the South, 16 years before Martin Luther King shouted “I have a dream,” 18 years before marchers were attacked by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

The challenges were overwhelming for those Negro Leaguers. That goes without saying. Still, for the next 40 years, through the Great Depression and World War II, through segregation and Jim Crow, through financial catastrophes and racist taunts and threats and through the silence and indifference that was meant to discourage them, they played ball. They played it so well and with such joy that, in the end, they could no longer be ignored. Negro Leaguer Jackie Robinson broke the barrier. Negro Leaguer Larry Doby followed.

Over the next dozen years, some of the greatest players to ever play the game of baseball — Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson, and so many others — shattered the myth of white supremacy that had been unwritten law in Major League Baseball.

As Buck used to say, America has done a good job of honoring those players who made it across the bridge. Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 has been retired across baseball. But, he added, we tend to forget those people who built the bridge. This has been so true of the Negro Leagues. For many years, many people simply pretended the Negro Leagues didn’t exist. Then, there were those who downplayed the leagues, questioned the quality of the players, dismissed the league as a minor side note to the history of baseball.

In recent years — thanks to the effort of people like Buck O’Neil and the extraordinary efforts Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — the Negro Leagues have gotten a bit more attention. And this year was supposed to be particularly special because of the Centennial. Major League Baseball planned an unprecedented celebration to honor those players who were denied their chance to even dream. In fact, this Saturday every player in baseball was planning to come out of the dugout before the game and tip their cap to the Negro Leagues, a simple but powerful gesture of respect.

Obviously, that can’t happen.

And so, we are going to make something else happen. We are asking people everywhere to do this simple thing — take just a moment and tip your cap to the Negro Leagues, then send us the photo or video and, if you like, a few words to photos@tippingyourcap.com. It can be any cap. The words can be anything at all — it can be about the cap your tipping, it can be about why you love baseball, it can be about social justice, it can be about the Negro Leagues, it can be whatever is in your heart.

As I mentioned in The Athletic piece, we are launching the campaign this week at tippingyourcap.com with some absolutely amazing people who are tipping their cap. I don’t want to ruin the surprise guests, but let’s just say: We overshot the moon.

Obviously, we want you to be a huge part of this.

Already, people have asked: What do you hope will come from this? There are any number of answers. Obviously, we want people to share the story of those Negro Leaguers. Obviously, we would love for people to donate a few bucks to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — there’s a donate button right there at the top of the website. Obviously, we would love to have this campaign go viral so that we can talk about the Negro Leagues and baseball (and not talk about, say, owner-player squabbles).

But for me, personally, it’s even more basic than that: There’s a lot of talk about “history” in the news these days, what is history, what isn’t, how do you honor history, what does it mean to forget history, etc. Well, there are very few statues dedicated to Negro Leagues’ baseball players. There are only a few books about them. There are only a handful of streets named for them. There are only a few songs written about them. There is so much we don’t know.

We talk about who is remembered by history. Well, it seems to me: That’s our choice.

And what I find so beautiful about this project, so profound about this project, is that the request is so simple and yet powerful: We just want you to take a few seconds to think about those Negro Leagues players who played ball in the shadows, who energized African American communities, who never got the chance to show their talents in the Major Leagues. It’s a small gesture, sure, but one that even now, especially now, I think carries so much power.

So here's my baseball plan ...

So, here are my top three thoughts about the 2020 baseball season:

  1. It won’t be a real season no matter how many or how few games they play. This is nobody’s fault; a global pandemic hit. Everybody should have let go of the notion of it being a “real season” a long time ago. There won’t be fans (or many fans). There won’t be pennant races like we have seen in the past. There will be challenges and could be any number of setbacks. This season will, by definition, be unlike anything that has ever happened in the history of the game. To those people who are still trying to bring “legitimacy” to this season: Stop. It won’t be that kind of year.

  2. Because it will not be a real season, there are two main ways to handle things. You can try anyway — out of deference to baseball history — to create something resembling a season. I believe this is pointless. Or, you can embrace the fun. You can try cool new things. You can try to make 2020 — best you can — a celebration of the game, a gift to Americans who are hurting and anxious and fearful and angry and lonely and desperate for something to feel good about.

  3. Everybody — EVERYBODY — in baseball is going to lose money. And you know what? Nobody outside of the game wants to hear about it. Forty million Americans are out of work. One hundred plus thousand are dead from this virus. Millions of people are marching in the street for racial justice. Nobody gives a damn about the baseball money. If you can’t shut up about the money now, in this moment, you deserve all the rage and, even worse, apathy that will rain down on your game.

So, with those three things in mind, I want to talk about something cheerful and thrilling and, yeah, I’m giddy about it. I want to talk about an idea for what the 2020 season could look like. For a long time, I’ve been thinking about how to turn the baseball year into something entirely different, a break from the past, a plan for the moment. So here goes:

As you probably know, owners and players have been arguing about how long the regular season should be. The players at one point talked about a 114-game season, which is a totally unrealistic idea for any number of reasons. The owners have talked about having players take enormous pay cuts to pay for the losses, which is also a totally unrealistic idea for any number of reasons.

And recently the owners have talked about a 48-game season, which I’ve heard people mock.

I think it’s the wrong argument. Who cares about the regular season? To be honest, I would be fine with a 48-game season. I could even love it.

And I’ll tell you why.

First, a 48-game season ends any and all pretense about 2020 being “legitimate” or whatever other word you want to use. And maybe with a 48-game season, the league would try some things to make the game more fun. In-dugout microphones? Sure! Fun new extra-inning rules? Why not? Seven-inning double-headers? Give it a shot! Incentives to speed up the game? Try it! Crazy-marketing plays? New umpiring techniques? Bringing the relievers out in bullpen carts? Having players in bubble-blowing competitions? Players wearing the name and number of their baseball heroes?

Look, anything and everything should be in play in 2020. I’ll say it again: Celebrate the game! I’m sure you have lots and lots of ideas that are way better than these that we could try.

But the second reason a 48-game season would be wonderful is we could do this:

A Major League Baseball version of the College World Series.

Yeah, that’s right: An MLB College World Series. When I think about how great this could be, I can’t stop smiling.

What would it look like? Glad you asked — I’m doing this off the top of my head, using last year’s standings, but I think it will help you imagine it.

OK, so first you would have regionals. The way I figure it it, you would have six regionals — four of them with four teams each and two more with seven teams. The idea would be to get it down to 16 teams. Here’s an example of how that might look, again based on last year’s standings:

Regional 1: Houston would host with Yankees, Minnesota and Oakland. They would play a double-elimination tournament* for seeding purposes. All four would make it (total teams 4).

*In the original of those posts, I kept calling them double-elimination round-robin tournaments — I guess that’s not the right way to say it. The CWS does it with double-elimination. We can decide the format as we go but I’ll just call them double-elimination from here on in.

Regional 2: The Dodgers would host with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Washington. Again, they would play a double-elimination tournament for seeding purposes. All four would make it (total teams 8).

Regional 3: Cleveland would host with Milwaukee, the Mets and the Phillies. They would play a double-elimination tournament. The top three teams would make it (total teams 11).

Regional 4: St. Louis would host with Arizona, Boston, and the Cubs. They would play a double-elimination tournament. The top three teams would make it (total teams 14).

Regional 5: Texas would host with Cincinnati, the Angels, Colorado, Toronto, Miami and Detroit. That’s seven teams. I’m not sure the best format for this — maybe a special round-robin tournament and then a final series, we can figure that part out. Point is, though, only ONE team would make it (total teams 15).

Regional 6: San Francisco would host with the White Sox, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Kansas City and Baltimore. That’s seven teams. This would be like the fifth regional with only one team making it (total teams 16).

OK, now you have 16 teams.

And you go on to the Super Regional. Those are best-of-three-game series played at the sites of the top eight teams. So again, just playing through, it might look like this (the top seed will have home-field advantage for all games).

No. 1 seed: Houston plays the winner of Regional 6. Let’s say that was San Diego.

No. 2 seed: The Dodgers play the winner of the Regional 5. Let’s say that was Cincinnati.

No. 3 seed: The Yankees would play the Cubs.

No. 4 seed: The Twins would play the Phillies.

No. 5 seed: The Braves would play the Red Sox.

No. 6 seed: Oakland would play the Brewers.

No. 7 seed: The Rays would play the Cardinals

No. 8 seed: Washington would play Cleveland

These would be three-game series for the right to go to the MLB College World Series — we’d have to come up with a better name for that. How about the MLB Free For All? October Insanity? Fall Frenzy? Autumn Meshugaas? Baseball Bedlam? You decide!

Then we’d have the big event, eight teams, one place, a double-elimination salute to baseball. Are you kidding me? It would be like a baseball World Cup. It would be like heaven. I’m imagining the players acting like kids. I’m imagining every game feeling like a carnival. I’m imagining it, and it’s the first time in such a long time that I’m thinking delightful thoughts about what this game could be in these crushing times.

Finally, the winner of each bracket would play in a seven-game World Series.

I’m sure my exuberance is coming in hot and over the top, but I honestly cannot begin to tell you how fired up I would be for this. And here’s the best part: I think it could work. I think this format, in addition to being awesome*. also seems like the best hope to try and combat COVID-19. You would be limiting travel. You would be creating baseball hubs. You would be giving everyone a chance to stay in one place with the expectation of social distancing.

And for the country it would be a big, sprawling, sunny, exhilarating baseball story, wall-to-wall ball, it would be the absolute greatest baseball thing since the bullpen car.

*I honestly think it’s so awesome that we’d never want to go back to the old system but I might be getting carried away.

I fear some people misunderstand why I and so many people I know are so angry at the people who run baseball now. It isn’t exactly that they’re struggling to find a way to play ball — I get that there are various challenges unique to baseball, and this is a hard puzzle, and we are living in unprecedented times.

I sort of get that the trust between players and owners is at low-tide and it’s hard for them to find common ground, even if that’s what the moment demands.

I even get that there are several hundred million dollars at stake and that’s a lot of money, even for some of the richest people in the country.

No, I’m angry because I sense no love for this game that I love. It doesn’t come across at all. At this moment, we could be talking about an MLB COLLEGE WORLD SERIES. Think about how much that would be to talk about, to argue about, to plan for, to dream about? What if Mike Trout’s Angels made a surprising run into the Series? What if the Dodgers lost early in the double-elimination tournament and needed to go on an epic run to make it to the Series? What if someone like Ronald Acuña or Francisco Lindor or Pete Alonso just got super-duper hot and the whole country was fired up about him? What if Max Scherzer or Blake Snell or, God help us, Trevor Bauer just took over because one pitcher could have an ENORMOUS impact in this kind of format.

Point is: We could be spending our time thinking about how cool it will be to see the players out there again, playing the game with a special kind of joy because the real point of this baseball season, the real point of this whole terrible year, should be to pull through together, to encourage and inspire and support each other, to find those thin rays of hope and happiness and common ground.

There’s only so much baseball can do in this obviously, obviously. We all know what’s really important. But baseball should damn well be doing something. An MLB College World Series — I’m telling you, this is it, this is the thing. Come on! Just give us a chance to fall in love with baseball again.

Baseball Missed Its Moment

Sports news on Thursday:

NBA Board of Governors vote to approve league’s 22-team format, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. This means the league will play to start around July 31 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on the Disney campus near Orlando.

The NHL plans to return with 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup playoffs — details still need to be worked out but the wheels appear to be in motion.

The Premier League plans to return to action on June 17. NASCAR returned already. The PGA Tour will return for the Colonial on June 11. MLS hopes to hold a tournament in Orlando soon. The NFL will have coaching staffs return to facilities on June 5 and fully expects the season to start on time. The WNBA is hoping to have a season in one place — perhaps Las Vegas.

And then there’s baseball.

It isn’t just that baseball has no plans to start yet. No. It’s that nobody has any idea what baseball is going to do. Nobody knows when they’re going to play, if they’re going to play, what a season would look like, etc. Nobody knows how many games would be played, where the games would be played, what a playoff format would be, if there would be a playoff at all and so on and so on.

I wrote yesterday about how badly baseball needs someone looking out for the future — and how daunting that future might look. Today I want to talk about something slightly different: How badly baseball has blown its moment.

Baseball’s one great advantage over the other American sports (perhaps its only advantage) is history: Baseball has been deeply embedded in the American consciousness for much longer than pro football or any sort of basketball even existed.

There is no figure in football or basketball or any other American sport as titanic or legendary as Babe Ruth.

No other sport is taught in America’s classrooms the way the story of Jackie Robinson is taught.

“I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” Franklin Roosevelt wrote as America went to fight in the deadliest war ever fought.

In the years that I’ve been livin’
A lot of things have surely changed
Lots of things have come and gone
Some even came back again

But through all the many changes
Some things are for sure
And you know it’s a mighty fine feeling
Kind of makes me feel secure

‘Cause I love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet!
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet!
They go together in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet!

— Chevy commercial song in 1975

How does that James Earl Jones’ speech go again?

“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game -- it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

Sure, baseball’s mythology and history and romance can be nauseating, at times even a seamhead like me can find it over the top. And we all can point to the countless missteps, blunders and scandals that have haunted the game.

But I do believe, as my friend John Thorn has said, that baseball is at its best when it leads, when it pushes America forward. And, at times, it really has. Sure, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier came much too late — there never should have been a barrier in the first place — but, as Buck O’Neil used to say, Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, when Martin Luther King was still in college, long before Brown vs. Board of Education.

Sure, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was relatively short-lived and it was problematic in numerous ways, but it also came long before Billie Jean King fought for equal pay, long before the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filled America’s consciousness — it was a professional baseball league featuring women at a time when such a thing was revolutionary.

Sure, baseball’s labor wars of the 1970s were painful and messy and left numerous scars, but that doesn’t change the fact that baseball players fought and won rights for athletes that opened up the sports world in ways that still are felt today.

And baseball absolutely should have led throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. The moment was theirs — the baseball season was just a couple of weeks away when the pandemic’s impact first hit the nation. Opening Day — that moment, Tom Boswell famous wrote, when time begins — came and went without baseball. The month of April came and went, that month when baseball hopes fill the mind. May came and went without baseball.

For the first time since 1880, there was no baseball on Memorial Day.

And in the place of baseball we were given … what? Nothing. Silence. OK, We know that they couldn’t play baseball right away. But where were the bold ideas? Where were the innovative plans? Where was the storytelling? Why weren’t there town meetings to talk about how to bring the game back better than ever? Why weren’t there fun baseball documentaries to fill the space — in the same way they used to show “This Week in Baseball” during rain delays?

Why weren’t their cool attempts to do fun baseball things — you saw how Mike Schur and the cast put out a special “Parks and Recreation” and raised millions. How did baseball not do something like that? A social distance home run derby at 10 local high schools? A Strat-o-Matic battle between Terry Francona and Whitey Herzog, between Greg Maddux and Mike Trout, between Max Scherzer and Frank Thomas?

I could go on like this forever — baseball just let months pass by with nothing.

But more, much more, infinitely more, where were the plans to get baseball going again? How could this sport just flail around in a dispiriting spiral of hopelessness? This is a pandemic. This is a once in a century nightmare. Everybody had to know they were going to lose money, lots and lots of money — this after something like a 50-year winning streak. Everybody had to know the season wasn’t going to look anything like other seasons. Everybody had to know that it would take cooperation and imagination and dedication to figure out how to play baseball.

And everybody had to know that people were so hungry for baseball, for something that felt familiar, for the sound of the ball cracking off the bat, for the sight of a freshly mowed outfield, for the sight of Mookie Betts rounding second and trying for a triple.

How could they fail such an obvious test?

Oh, sure, they’ll probably figure out a way to get out and play ball eventually. But people are exhausted. There was a moment to lead, a moment for baseball to once again be at the center of American optimism and aspiration. And, they fought over money instead. They talked past each other instead. I’m not both-siding it — I blame the owners, the people who are supposed to be looking out for this game. But, as I have said before, most people don’t care whose fault it is. All they care about is that baseball can’t get its act together. Again.

It’s heartbreaking, really. There was a moment there, I believe, when baseball could have once again showed the way. I know there were people — I heard from many fo them — who said: “Hey, if they play baseball, maybe I’ll give it another try. I used to be a big baseball fan before (the strike/steroids/the games got so long). Maybe I’ll check it out.”

And that moment is gone. I don’t know anyone who feels that way anymore. Soon there will be soccer and there will be golf and basketball and football will be on the horizon and baseball? We die hards will be there when baseball finally comes around because we’re always there.

But, yes, the moment is gone. That’s the lesson of baseball, isn’t it? If you hesitate, the fastball is already by you.

The Future of Baseball

“Understand this: The minor-league players, the player you’ll never know about, the players that never get out of rookie ball or high-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game as 10-year or 15-year veteran players. They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro baseball.

“They’re growing the game constantly because they’re so passionate about it. So we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor-league player during this time, a time we needed to stand behind them.”

— Dayton Moore explaining Royals philosophy


I would say that at least once a day for the last few days, I’ve gone back and read that quote — I love it so much. It’s a reminder of something about baseball that I think a lot about, a question that was getting lost even before we found ourselves in a pandemic, the Great Depression and 1968 all at once, something that recent days have highlighted in a whole new way.

Who is looking out for baseball?

I mean the game. Who is looking out for the game? Who is looking out for this sport that has been leaking popularity for many years now, this game that ranks fourth in popularity among young people, this game that no longer has the national presence it once did, this game that is aging before our very eyes.

Let’s talk for a moment about where the game is — or was before the pandemic. More than half of the people who watch baseball games on television are 55 and over. The average age of the baseball fan, according to Sports Business Journal, is 57 — so much older than the NFL (50), NHL (49), NBA (42) and, particularly, MLS (40).

Here’s a sobering fact: The average age of today’s baseball fan is roughly the average age of horse racing fans in 2006. Let that sink in. Think of what has happened to horse racing since 2006 (well, for one thing, the average age rose seven years). It ain’t coming back.

To be transparent, baseball fans have been older than the fans of other major sports for many years now. It is, by its very nature, a sport that relies on nostalgia and history rather than violence and blurring action. But the age-gap has reached a whole new level. Only 9 percent of all Americans listed baseball as their favorite sport in the latest Gallup poll, the lowest percentage in Gallup history.

And that number would have been much lower except for the 15% of people 55 and older who still love baseball most.

Among people 54 and younger — baseball at 7% ranked way behind football (35%), basketball (12%) AND soccer (11%).

Then there’s this: Think about how few African American faces you see in baseball now. On Wednesday, MLB released a statement about how the game has zero tolerance for racism. The statement itself seemed like a lot of words to say very little, but more to the point: Where are the black stars in the game? If you are young and African American, how do you see yourself in this game?

There are zero African-American GMs in baseball. There are two African-American managers — one of them, Dusty Baker, hired only to put out the flames after the Houston Astros cheating explosion. And African American stars?

Well, there’s Mookie Betts, a superstar who got traded during the offseason. George Springer is wonderful. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are great but have been hampered by injuries for a couple of years now. Marcus Semien was fantastic in 2019 and is mostly unknown. David Price won a Cy Young and is still an effective pitcher. Andrew McCutchen has been a star and a credit to the game for years but he’s so vividly on the downhill. Lorenzo Cain has never gotten the credit he deserves. Same with Michael Brantley. Josh Bell smashed 37 homers last year. Tim Anderson showed some star potential in 2019. Byron Buxton is so fun when healthy, which is rare.

How many of them would you call big stars?

Now, depending on your age, think of the players who defined baseball for you.

I was 11 years old in 1978. That year Jim Rice and Dave Parker won the league MVP awards. And the list of black stars behind them is seemingly endless and spread out in every single baseball town — Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, Amos Otis, Vida Blue, Willie Randolph, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, J.R. Richard, Andre Thornton, Bill Madlock, Gary Maddox, George Foster, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Bibby, Ken Singleton, Don Baylor, Willie Stargell, Dusty Baker, Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie, Eddie Murray, Dock Ellis, Hal McRae, Frank White, Ron LeFlore, Lou Whitaker, Al Oliver, Mickey Rivers so many more.

Mike Schur, who is a bit younger than me, goes off the top of his head and points to his childhood of Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Willie Wilson, Kirby Puckett, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Tony Gwynn, Albert Belle, Lee Smith, Barry Larkin, Mo Vaughan, Reggie Sanders, Kevin Mitchell, Ron Gant, Kenny Lofton and Tim Raines, literally just off the top of his head, typing in a flurry of memory. He didn’t even get to Hall of Famers Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas or the guy who is probably the best player of the last 50 years, Barry Bonds.

He didn’t even mention the most famous baseball player of the 1980s, perhaps, Bo Jackson.

Remember when Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders and Michael Jordan, the greatest athletes of the day, ALL wanted to play baseball.

We are so far away from all that now. There are many reasons for the dearth of African Americans in baseball and, yes, there are people dedicated to turning back the tide. But the point here is that so many people don’t see themselves in this game now. The game’s range narrows.

And who is out there looking to expand that range again?

This, I should say, is NOT one of those “Baseball is dead” essays that people have been writing since, no kidding, the 1890s. Major League Baseball, in many ways, has been doing better than ever because it’s still a force in local markets. Attendance has been going down, yes (it’s essentially flat for the last 22 years) but baseball is the most popular summer show on television in any number of cities.

And franchises have skyrocketed in value. Twenty or so years ago, the Kansas City Royals couldn’t find a local buyer willing to put up $100 million. Last year, they sold to local businessman John Sherman for about a billion dollars.*

*It is so unnatural for us to understand numbers as high as a million and a billion, so here’s a little primer. Let’s say you get a job paying $50,000 a year. If you work at that job for 20 years, you will have earned $1 million. How long would it take you make a billion?

Answer: 20,000 years.

No, this is not about MLB dying. This is about baseball itself. The game. Who looks after it? Who promotes baseball? Who proselytizes baseball? Who spends all their creativity and energy and focus on making baseball a better, more interesting, more inclusive, more exciting game for fans — not today’s fans but those in five years, ten years, 20 years?

There are, unquestionably, some people trying. But we don’t see them much. What we see are teams and managers, without hesitation, sacrificing parts of the game that might be interesting or daring in the interest of efficiency.

What you see is a rise in ticket prices and how that has priced out families and so many children who otherwise might fall in love with the game.

What you see, I believe, is a shortsightedness, a submission to the moment, a perpetual fight over the game’s riches. This last part, in particular, has played out over the last few weeks while a global pandemic rages on, and do you think most people care if it’s the owners or the players who are at fault? No. Most people just see that people can’t come together, even now, for this game that they’re all supposed to love.

So who can blame someone for asking: If that’s how they treat this game, why in the hell should I care?


Dayton Moore is a friend of mine. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, to say the least, but we’re good enough friends that we have had numerous arguments about our disagreements, have poked lots of fun at each other about our individual feelings, and we never think less of each other over it.

The reason, at least on my side, is this: I admire Dayton Moore. I believe I know where his heart is — especially when it comes to baseball.

Dayton Moore loves baseball. He loves the game with a depth that, I think, goes beyond the ordinary. He loves every single part of the game. We’ve had long discussions about how much he loves grounds crews. We’ve had long conversations about how much he loves scouts. We’ve had long conversations about my mother in law, Judy, who lives in a small Kansas town and every night watches and roots for the Royals with everything she’s got, no matter how far out of first place they might be.

Dayton and I almost never have a conversation — even short ones — where he doesn’t ask me about Judy.

He loves high school baseball, college baseball, minor-league baseball. He loves baseball played by kids in Latin American countries. He loves baseball played in Japan and Korea. He was at the heart of building a youth baseball academy in Kansas City. He wants to takes baseball everywhere, to every boy and girl in this country, because he believes baseball is the best game, the game that teaches the best lessons, the game that equalizes the playing field, the game that allows you to thrive even if you aren’t the tallest or the fastest or the strongest.

He is the truest of baseball believers. I love that about him.

Stunningly, I don’t think that sort of love is all that common in the game. And it should be.

What’s so wonderful about the quote above is that, frankly, I’ve never heard anyone else say it. And it’s so true, so obvious once you think clearly. What Dayton Moore is saying is that every minor leaguer no matter how high they get in the game is a hero to someone. High school baseball fields are named for them. Little League teams are coached by them. Junior college and college players learn from them. Raw talents are spotted by them.

There are highway signs with their names on them throughout America.

Baseball might treat them shabbily or take them for granted but they are Johnny Appleseeds for this game. They are a critical part of the game’s purpose … and the game’s future.

THIS is how baseball should be thinking about everything, not just now but always: How can we celebrate baseball? How can we reach new audiences? How can we bring live, exciting baseball to more communities (and for less money)? How can we show young people how much fun the game is to play and watch and follow? How can we get into communities? How can we make a difference? How can we draw more young people?

There aren’t easy answers. But there are no answers if you don’t take the time to ask the questions. If I was commissioner, I would put Dayton Moore in charge of the game’s future.

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