Bob Ryan

Baseball had a chance to make a statement and to do things right — but didn’t

For three months, the baseball negotiators hit stop sign after stop sign, like those in front of Dodger Stadium.
For three months, the baseball negotiators hit stop sign after stop sign, like those in front of Dodger Stadium.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Like any good parent, I hate it when the kids fight. I hate it even more when these particular kids — Major League Baseball and the Players Association — demonstrate a shocking disrespect for their product, and its future.

I feel very proprietary toward Baseball; hence my claim to be a “parent” of those who have been entrusted with its welfare. I love all kinds of sports, but Baseball was my foundation sport. Baseball is how it all began for me.

If you had your picture in the local morning paper wearing a Brooklyn Dodger uniform when you were 2; if you had spent your 5-year-old summer in Columbus, Ga., because your father was working for the Sally League Columbus Cardinals; if on many a summer Sunday morning in the 1950s you were awakened and informed you were heading to the Polo Grounds or Connie Mack Stadium (or even Shibe Park before the rename); if New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies players were personal friends of your father; if you were given a book titled “Modern Baseball Strategy” for Christmas when you were 9; if your passion had taken you to 53 major league and 60 minor league parks in 41 states, plus the provinces of Quebec and Ontario; if you have in your possession nine scorebooks chronicling 43 seasons of baseball (plus scorecards with games charted between 1967 and 1976); and if you believe that if you had to filibuster for your life, the topic you would choose would be Baseball …

Then perhaps you would know how I feel about the way these adversaries have been trashing their product and embarrassing themselves these past few months.


In a better world, Rob Manfred and Tony Clark would have sat down three months ago, face to face. It would have been nice had one of them said, “OK, we have a global pandemic on our hands and the prospect of a completely altered society whenever this awful thing ends. It’s pretty obvious that what our goal should be is to do whatever will be in the best long-range interests of the game.


“Common sense tells us we will never get a deal we both love. What we need is a deal we both hate but which will be in the best interests of the game.”

Yes, I know, that reflects colossal naivete. History has taught us that neither side is capable of legitimate compromise.

Do they not realize they have a game that was in jeopardy, COVID-19 or no COVID-19? Attendance has declined seven years in succession. The games are too long. Baseball has an aging demographic.

My first thought upon leaving the house on a summer morning in the ’50 was: What type of baseball would we be playing today? One-on-one against a backstop? Maybe four-on-four with a rubber ball or tennis ball? Or, if everything broke right, actual hardball with at least seven-on-seven at Extension Field, two blocks away?

Who grows up that way now? Sadly, we all know the answer.

These kids of mine acted as if it were 1955 and baseball was reigning supreme. The NFL had 12 teams then. The NBA had eight. The NHL had six. America came to a standstill at World Series time, even with weekday starts of 1 p.m. Eastern.

That world no longer exists.


Baseball had a chance to grab the spotlight once again. Instead, it was the same old same old, and they weren’t even negotiating. They were firing out e-mails. How mature.

Someone needed to step forward and do some metaphorical head-knocking. And I’ll tell you who was in a perfect position.

John Henry.

Where was the John Henry who listened to Harry Caray do those Cardinals games from that Arkansas farm? Where was the John Henry whose legitimate romanticism has led him to usher Fenway into the 21st century when the prior regime in its final days was scheming day and night to get rid of it?

And John Henry (who also owns the Globe) represents Boston.

So what? Well, I’ll tell you what. No major city in America has deeper baseball roots.

Boston was a charter member of the first really formalized league, the National Association. The year was 1871. Boston won four pennants. Boston was a charter member of the National League, founded in 1876. Boston was a charter member of the American League, founded in 1901.

And Boston has had a fabulous 21st century.

It would have been very appropriate for the man who is proud to say he presides over baseball’s “Most Beloved Ballpark” to have taken the lead.

Yes, I know it’s only Baseball. But the late Robert B. Parker sure spoke for me when he said, “Baseball is the most important thing in life that doesn’t matter.” That’s actually true of Sport in general, but right now my concern is Baseball.


P.S. The kids are officially out of the will.