NEW YORK — Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes doesn’t have kids, but that didn’t stop him from supporting teammate David Price’s decision to take paternity leave this past week so Price could be home for the birth of his second child.
“That’s where he should be,” Barnes said inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. “Baseball is incredibly important [to] everybody in this room’s life, but there’s nothing more important that being with your family. I think he absolutely needs to be home for that.
“A hundred percent.”
In a twist that’s difficult to imagine has ever happened before, both probable starting pitchers for Sunday night’s series finale between the Red Sox and Yankees have been on simultaneous paternity leave, with Yankees starter J.A. Happ also excused for the past few days. And while the outcome of the game won’t much matter in the grand scheme of a playoff race quickly racing out of the Red Sox’ reach, the matchup deserves special attention for what it represents in the grand scheme of human progress, finally catching up to modern times in a way that should be celebrated.
“It puts everything in perspective,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who took advantage of the policy to attend the birth of his twins in 2017, back when he was the bench coach for the Astros. “These guys are athletes, everybody expects them to perform on a nightly basis. I know they make a lot of money, but in the end they’re human beings and they’ve got their families. I’m happy for both of them and if they can compete on Sunday, it’ll be great. It’s probably a first, no, that something like that happens?
“It puts everything in perspective. It does.”
For all the criticism baseball deservedly takes for historically lagging behind on many fronts — racial integration, pace of play, etc. — this is an area in which the powers that be deserve credit. Alone among the four major sports in having an official policy for expectant dads, baseball adopted a rule in 2011 that says a player placed on paternity leave must miss at least his team’s next game but no more than three games. In his absence, the team can use another player from its 40-man roster to replace him, assuring they won’t be shorthanded.
“I don’t think they even had paternity leave when I played,” said former Yankee and current team broadcaster Paul O’Neill, a father of three. “Growing up I missed my brother’s wedding, lots of stuff. You just didn’t take games off. We planned our kids intentionally so we would have them in the offseason.
“The policy shows the importance of things that go on outside the game. Your life goes on, you improve things, and that’s definitely an improvement, that a father can be there.”
It wasn’t always that way. There’s a telling anecdote in Globe colleague Dan Shaughnessy’s book with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona about the time Francona attempted to tell his then-Reds manager Pete Rose, with whom he has remained friends, he was going to go home for the birth of his first baby.
“That’s fine,” Rose told him. “Just don’t come back.”
“Francona got the message,” Shaughnessy wrote. “He stayed in Cincinnati and hit an Opening Day home run in an 11-5 win over the Expos. His first daughter, Alyssa, was born the next day and he was not there. It was the only one of his children’s births that he missed and he never shed the regret.”
Times have changed since 1987, but not always fast enough. Rewind only five years ago, when then-Met Daniel Murphy missed the team’s Opening Day game while using the last day of his paternity leave. The decision earned him venomous ridicule from two local radio personalities, Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. While Esiason, who suggested Murphy’s wife should have planned her C-section for before the season, later apologized, Francesa never backed off his assertion Murphy should have returned to the team and hired a nurse to be with his wife.
Murphy, to his credit, was unfazed by the criticism, explaining at the time, “I can only speak from my experience, a father seeing his wife, she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off . . . It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”
Amen to that.
And amen to the current baseball culture that takes paternity leave in stride. The transactions barely register other than in prompting a few pass-out-the-cigars jokes or plenty of congratulations.
“It’s definitely something that’s just expected now in baseball,” said Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland, a father of three who used leave to attend the birth of his oldest in 2012. “Family is the most important thing when it comes down to it. You want to be there for the birth of your kid.”
“That’s a life-changing thing,” agreed Red Sox infielder and dad of one Brock Holt. “It’s everyone’s decision, but at the end of the day if you want to be there for the birth of a child, you should be able to be there. Honestly, I don’t feel like three days is even enough.”
But it sure beats nothing. And the fact that it’s codified by policy is important, leaving judgment or guilt off the table. While players in other pro sports have often done the same — Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade was very public in his decision to take some time away when his child was born — they have to rely on the rules of each individual club. In baseball, there’s no conversation needed. And in a sport that has 162 regular-season games in addition to a month of playoffs, it’s more than appropriate to acknowledge how much that cuts into family time, time that no amount of money can buy back.
“People forget that we are human, too. Baseball is a priority, but family comes first,” Red Sox reliever Marcus Walden, the father of two girls, said. “When we heard [David’s] baby was born [Thursday] none of us thought he’d be here, and we have no problem with it at all.”
Said Sandy Leon, the Red Sox catcher whose paternity leave earlier this season forced him to miss a start with favored pitcher Chris Sale: “David congratulated me then and I’ll congratulate him now.”
And on this score, I say congratulations baseball.