Mike Leake was the first, followed by Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross. Now, Ian Demond is the latest Major League baseball player to opt out of playing this season, citing the COVID-19 risk and a desire to focus on civil rights issues and family matters.
The loss of this small group of players doesn’t move the needle very much in reality, or fantasy baseball. But it puts baseball on a slippery slope as fans fear the possibility of bigger names defecting before the 2020 shortened season starts on July 23rd.
As part of MLB’s 60-game season, players who are considered “high-risk” can opt out and still be credited for service time and receive their prorated salary for the season. Other players can opt out, but they would forfeit their salary and service time.
MLB also must face the grim but inevitable reality that there will be coronavirus casualties as the season progresses. The MLB community is a microcosm of a nation and world facing the same reality as this disease continues to spread.
I don’t want to minimize the risk associated with the virus. Each of us is facing this risk on a daily basis, and there is only so much that can be done to mitigate the risk. And I don’t want to judge the motives of players opting out for 2020.
With that caveat stated, I still question the motives of some MLB players who are opting out in spite of the fact that they are not in the high risk group. No one can know what is in the heart of a man, but one can guess based on behavior.
Two weeks ago, before the “play ball” mandate, I wrote a column entitled: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” It was a lament about how I missed players like DiMaggio, Ernie Banks and Bob Gibson who played baseball because they loved it.
“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today,” was a phrase coined by Banks, who still wanted to play a doubleheader in September when his team was no longer in contention for the playoffs. Would Banks have held out, or opted out?
But it’s a different era today. with the game dominated by the Millennials and Generation Z and their entitlement mentality. What is lacking in these players is an attitude of gratitude for being able to play this great game and being paid so well.
The reason MLB players have become millionaires is because of the fans. Baseball fans, like you and me, buy tickets and gear because we love the game. Is it really too much to ask the players we support to show more love and a spirit of gratitude?