It may be a banal truism, but it is still true: Baseball reflects America. In a year where America has looked different than it has in any of our - or any of our parent’s - lifetimes, baseball was different in many of the same ways.
The drive to find a way to play a season during a pandemic was, of course, largely driven by money. But it was also an act of hope. Back in May and June, when it was in doubt that this season could or should happen, the fact that baseball found a way to persist felt like a victory.
It was a queasy victory, no doubt. As the players took the field, I think most of us felt a rush of delight, but also that lingering question “should they be doing this?” But I felt exactly the same way when, also around the middle of July, I went to a restaurant for the first time in four months, stayed only on the patio, and gingerly lowered my mask to eat.
The return of baseball was heralded as a return to normalcy, in sentimental commercials and elsewhere. But that return path became rocky after the first step. Outbreaks shut down the Marlins and Cardinals, and just one week after Opening Day, Rob Manfred was pointing a finger at players and threatening to call the whole thing off.
The return to normalcy in America was equally smooth, which is to say not at all. The initial push to “flatten the curve” was called off early by Governors around the country, leading to a 2nd and now a 3rd wave of infections. For the most part, leaders eschewed systemic regulations and instead likewise opted for finger pointing. They blamed a lack of personal responsibility on the part of beach goers, college students and motorcycle enthusiasts.
By October, all the carefully considered precautions of baseball and America writ large seemed to be abandoned. Despite infection rates much higher than they had been in July, baseball began admitting fans into stadiums - at least in Texas - where political leaders had eased and never reinstated those restrictions.
Texas is far from alone. Around the country, most states are not reinstating restrictions, despite skyrocketing infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths. Many have surpassed the supposed limits where mitigation strategies would kick back in, but their official stances now seem to be a shrug and surrender.
That journey from collective responsibility to abdication was perfectly encapsulated in the deciding game of the World Series. The Dodgers Justin Turner exited the game for unknown reasons in the 8th inning. The moment after the Dodgers clinched the championship and the celebration on the field began, the FOX broadcast cut back to the studio where it was reported Turner had been pulled due to a positive COVID test.
“We learned during the game Justin tested positive and he was immediately isolated to prevent spread,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a postgame interview on the field.
And yet... moments after that, the supposedly quarantined Turner was back on the field, mask sometimes on and sometimes off, hugging his teammates and celebrating with their wives, children and MLB officials - including Manfred.
This was the final destination of MLB’s season long journey from “health and safety are our top priority” to “fuck it.”
Turner’s teammates pointed out the obvious. It would be very sad for Justin if he didn’t get to celebrate with his team, and it would be difficult to tell him that he could not. It’s also sad that our children cannot play inside at their friends’ houses, and it’s difficult to tell them that we can’t have close contact with elderly relatives.
Some of us are still making those hard decisions. Others have given up. Baseball and America - always a mirror of each other, for good and for bad.