As we look back on the SF Giants year, the MLB season exemplified much of the good, bad, and worse about the United States. None of it is going anywhere without changing far more than the date.
When 2020 began, no one knew all that was coming. The COVID-19 virus would impact everyone around the world. As the year approaches its end, the virus continues to kill thousands of people a day. A governmental failure to provide a necessary safety net in the United States alongside a global conspiracy movement spreading misinformation about the danger of the virus has only exasperated the crisis domestically.
Major League Baseball suspended Spring Training, canceled the minor-league season, and would eventually cut the regular season from 162 to just 60 games in response to the pandemic. Even then, without fans in the stands during the regular season and numerous precautions, there remain legitimate questions about how the league managed the virus and whether the season should have been played at all.
Multiple teams suffered COVID-19 outbreaks and we will never know how many people adjacent to teams contracted the virus because games were played. Even in the final moments of the season, when the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series for the first time in over thirty years, their championship was overshadowed by the mishandling of one of their players, who had COVID-19.
Still, for many, the return of big-league baseball in late July was a semblance of reality that they wanted. I say want instead of need for a reason. This was a year defined by a society failing to effectively delineate the difference between the two. Team ownership groups with incredible amounts of wealth used the pandemic to justify layoffs and leverage employee pay cuts, and the players to play a season.
Few others in the sports industry could afford to prioritize their health with billionaires holding wages hostage. In response, rather than public pressure pushing owners to pay their employees, many fans and journalists bent over backward to justify games returning. We chose sports over safety time and time again. We chose many things we wanted over safety time and time again.
Although ratings around sports and television were down this year, it didn’t stop me from watching SF Giants games. It didn’t stop me from celebrating a Mike Yastrzemski walk-off home run or a strong outing from Kevin Gausman. Yet, I am not particularly proud of that. More often in 2020 than many years before, the painful contrasts of suffering and celebration were stark. I still have not reconciled it.
There were incredibly powerful moments. The SF Giants hired Alyssa Nakken, who became the first woman to work as an on-field coach for an MLB team. On August 26th, following the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Giants became part of the largest athlete movement in American history when they joined thousands of athletes refusing to take the field. Countless players made public statements on racism and changes that need to take place in baseball and broader society.
In a year highlighted by loss, baseball was not immune. A long list of legends, including Oakland’s own Joe Morgan, passed away. While it is obviously the center of so much this year, from the pandemic to police homicides, death seems to have been overshadowed by trying to convince ourselves we need to live our lives as they were before. Yet, we are running from the most tragic aspect of 2020. It was by far the deadliest year in US history. There is no tragedy that exceeds the loss of life and here we are, at the end of a year that took more lives than any before.
Many look forward to leaving 2020 behind but improving our society is far more complicated than changing the date. Ignoring 2020 will only propagate the pain we are trying to escape. The COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse as we enter the new year. If we want things to be better, we need to do things differently. We need to take more precautions now than we were this summer. We need to give people the financial support to do so. Instead, we seem set on doing the opposite.
MLB has always been a mirror. At every stage of its existence, MLB has replicated the racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other prejudices rampant throughout America’s dominant culture. This year, those problems were often pushed into popular discourse and exposed these realities throughout baseball and society. Yet, the powerful activism from millions around the globe envisioning a better future is not absent from the sport either. It’s necessary to remember that.
History is always more complicated than success and failure. When it comes to any time period, there are always more nuanced realities than good and bad. The bad of 2020 was an unparalleled level of death and a constant unwillingness to change behavior for the safety of our communities. The good, however, remains in the work of so many fighting against opposing forces to build the equitable future we need.
What we need and what we want is different. In 2020, our society needed to prioritize the difference. We failed. Thousands are dead because of it. At this point, the question worth asking is not what was 2020, but what will this year become? Will it come to epitomize how we prioritize our individual wants or spawn the change we need? The answer awaits us on the other side of midnight.
Thank you to everyone who supported Around the Foghorn this year.