I just happened to be running a disk of the 1969 World Series’ Game Four this past week as I did my twenty-minute sauna sessions. That’s the match that Tom Seavers’ Mets won against Mike “Crazy Horse” Cuellar’s Orioles (love the nickname!) in the bottom of the tenth. Like so many others, I was shocked to hear of Tom Terrific’s death at age 75. No accident involved: the culprit was Lewy Body Dementia complicated by COVID-19. Also like most people, I had never heard of Lewy Dementia… who’s Lewy? (My know-it-all iPad keeps trying to correct the word to “Levy”.) The disease seems to be very closely related to Parkinson’s, so Tom wasn’t facing any Double A call-up with a .198 average. Looking at him and Gil Hodges conferring on the mound in the ninth of that great game, I had the strangest of feelings. One of these great men would be dead in less than half a year of the original filming; the other had passed on as I watched 20-minute segments of the game’s video during the week.
Now, I’ve tuned out the mainstream media to the extent that I can. The sewage leaks into MLB broadcasts, especially ESPN’s, so I couldn’t insulate myself hermetically. But having acknowledged the extreme circumscription of my exposure, I have to say that the media hacks appear to show—so far—a laudable reluctance to play Tom Seavers’ end into some idiot cautionary tale about the gravity of “the pandemic”. The CDC admitted (also just this past week, I believe) that only about 6 percent of COVID deaths are caused by rather than accompanied by the disease: in other words, that in almost every instance, reduced resistance because of a grave previous condition allows the virus to nip in opportunistically and contribute to the body’s decline. Tom was among the 94 percent. He doesn’t deserve to be gathered up in the political haymaking as another talking point.
A few very recognizable names in baseball have spoken out against measures taken against COVID that have not only mutilated the Major League’s regular season, annihilated minor league and college/high school seasons, banned the spectator experience, and made mere practice problematic, but have also delayed critical diagnoses (like that of my prostate cancer) and plunged thousands of young people into suicidal depression (as in the case of someone very close to me who fortunately sought help). In fact, it’s been sensibly estimated that over 40,000 more Americans have died of the lockdown’s collateral damage than have died of the disease. If COVID is a killer, then our governmental policies to protect us from it have become a mass-murderer.
Aubrey Huff, I noticed, made a public protest… and then disappeared from social media. Curt Schilling is far more difficult to airbrush from the public arena. In a tweet I read this past Sunday morning, the Schillster wryly asks, “Over 11,000 college students have tested positive, 0 hospitalizations. Why is the nation shut down again?“ I know that a lot of active players have to share such sentiments. You can almost guess who they are when the camera pans through the dugout: coaches masked up to the eyebrows, a few players following their lead (has Didi Gregorius even left enough room for his eyes?)… and then several guys just hanging out as they normally would.
Something in me (maybe the part that recalls having to rush to Mexico to get cancer treatment) becomes a little steamed when I see an outfielder kicking daisies in a mask or a baserunner taking his lead in a mask. I’m not going to recycle Clint Eastwood’s comments… but I do have to wonder: if this bunch is so socially conscious that they can’t stand for the anthem, then where’s their protest against the skyrocketing suicide rate of 18-to-25-year-olds of all races and creeds? Do they realize that they are actually collaborators in this holocaust?
Then I simmer down, and I begin to see the situation from their point of view. Here are some of the factors that must make it tough to cry foul on the lockdown while wearing a Major League uniform:
1) Many big-leaguers are still little more than kids. Those who hail from the Dominican or Venezuela probably don’t know a bacterium from a backstop. The state-run media (well, they are state-run in other countries, and the mainstream media here certainly have political objectives) tell them that the Plague is loose. How are they to know any different? They do as they’re instructed by their coaches and elders, and what they understand of the broader cultural envelope confirms the alarm.
2) Our American boys, who must have absorbed at least a smattering of science from their D-1 schools—or even their JUCO vehicles to success—could stand to be more skeptical… but some of them have young children at home. I don’t really blame Mike Trout for hesitating to play. My own brother has two degrees in Biology, yet he believes everything he hears on CNN and NPR. Juveniles, including and especially infants, are virtually impervious to the virus (thank God)… but if you’re a young father and you can strain no consistent message from the warring volleys that reach you through Twitter and FOX, wouldn’t you want to err on the side of caution? If you end up making a bad call, make it where your bambinos come out safe and sound and the cost of your folly tallies in mere lost dollars and unadvancing stats. Yes, I get that.
3) Nobody wants to be the guy who costs his team the pennant. Just think of it. You spoke out against the lockdown… and then you test positive. By the way, tests show a high rate of false positives: as much as 90 percent of positive tests may be in error (according to the New York Times, no less). But that won’t matter: the tag will already be hanging around your neck. You’re a “COVID-denier”. ESPN’s gaggle of gossips will assist at your crucifixion if more members of the team turn up positive and active play is suspended for a week or so. Momentum is gone; the season’s ruined. And it was probably because Phil Robertson over there couldn’t process Anthony Fauci’s decrees. Something like this (I confess I haven’t excavated the whole saga) seems to have happened with Mike Clevenger. What did he do… wander out of the hotel during a road trip? It sounded more like he’d roared his way through the Copacabana Club with a bottle of bubbly in one hand and a Glock in the other. Clevenger has been exiled to a better place, and I’m happy for him—but a lesser player could well have found his career damaged ever after. No one wants to be that player.
4) Managers and coaches, whose mugs are always masked, will make you feel it if you expose them to public attack by challenging COVID orthodoxy. Few jobs on this earth are less secure than a Major League manager’s. If the media narrative insists that COVID is the bubonic plague, then, by golly, that’s how we’ll play it before the cameras. Don’t make me look bad. Who would tell his skipper to go take a hike? Only a superstar of Brian Harper’s caliber might get away with doing so—but why would he do so? The old man needs his job; what sociopath would want to send him to the unemployment line in this economy? So… yeah, we’ll all just play along.
I’m sure there are more reasons why reasonable, decent young men might collaborate in banning fandom from their sport and ginning up a national panic. We know, for instance, that players of non-European and non-Asiatic origin are more susceptible to infection. (Europeans may be benefited by a dose of Neanderthal DNA, which turns out to be a real microbe-fighter; Asians have been so saturated by corona viruses for centuries that most likely have a degree of immunity.) I’m aware that Freddie Freeman fell horribly ill with CV-19. If I were a medical professional, I’d be really eager to find out why his experience was such an outlier within his demographic. Of course, the takeaway for the broadcast-grackles was, “He almost died! This could be you if you don’t follow instructions!”
Will Tom Seaver end up being a mere poster child for the movement to lock down our society? I hope not. I haven’t observed that tendency… but, as noted earlier, I deliberately haven’t been sticking my nose in the smellier places. Even if the media hounds incredibly display a bit of taste, though, it’s a sad way to send off one of the great ballplayers of the latter twentieth century. There should be moments of silence in ballparks around the nation. Well, we have that… and nothing but that, all the time. Will the MLB pipe in a minute of pre-recorded absolute stillness between bursts of pre-recorded cheers?
Be at peace, good man, in those green fields that never fade. May the eternal sun fall lightly on your high hard one.