By Edward Achorn
We need baseball. As soon as possible. Under any circumstances.
I’ll throw out my love of tradition.
I’ll take games played at Yankee Stadium, or at the Triple-A ballpark in Reno, Nevada.
I’ll take a universal designated hitter, though I prefer the strategy that goes with pitchers’ having to take their turn at the plate (National League rules).
I’ll take three ten-team leagues, with regional rivalries instead of the classic division of National League and American League.
I’ll take a short season, with a ridiculously bloated number of playoff contenders.
I’ll take empty stands, or those with fans in masks sitting six feet apart.
I’ll take it any which way. I’m starving for baseball.
As much as I have savored watching the 1952 World Series on YouTube (Yankees vs. Dodgers, especially Game 7 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, with Red Barber offering his insights — “He turned him every which way but loose!”), I need it live, with the outcome still in doubt.
Many baseball people, including writers, seem opposed to this. They say they worry about the spread of the coronavirus.
But at some point we need to get our lives back. Nothing in this vale of tears comes with guarantees.
As I write this, Major League Baseball seems to be haggling with the players union over a plan to have an 82-game season starting in July. I hope we can move forward.
MLB recently tested its front office people, players and coaches for coronavirus antibodies and found only 60 of 5,754 came back positive. That means the virus could spread if the players were to get together. Some of the managers have health conditions that would place them in the risk category for possible death from the coronavirus. But the disease seems to be asymptomatic or not life-threatening to most healthy young people.
Certainly, baseball — with the kind of health precautions being discussed — could lift the spirits of America, ease panic and lead us toward a more normal life.
President Franklin Roosevelt recognized its psychological effects when he urged that baseball continue during World War II.
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before,” he wrote in a January 15, 1942 letter to Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
“And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before,” Roosevelt wrote.
Many star players enlisted or were drafted into the war. Ted Williams, fresh off winning the Triple Crown in 1942 (.356 batting average, 36 home runs, and 137 RBIs), joined the service in 1943 and became a Navy aviator. Bob Feller wasted less time, driving to a Chicago Navy recruiting office and volunteering after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
The game’s greatest stars — including Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Stan Musial and Pee Wee Reese — went off to war.
The players left in their wake might not have made it in normal times. The shining symbol of those difficult times was Pete Gray, an outfielder for the St. Louis Browns who had lost one of his arms in a wagon accident in childhood.
But baseball went on, providing pleasure and distraction for Americans at home and abroad, and offering reassurance that all had not been lost.
We can use that reassurance today.
(Edward Achorn is the author of the classic baseball history books The Summer of Beer and Whiskey and Fifty-nine in ’84 as well as the acclaimed new book Every Drop of Blood.)