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Doug Wolter: Baseball, politics and a parting of the ways

In 2022, in the offices of the commissioner of Major League Baseball, the future looks cloudy as attempts are made to address the sport's diminishing fan base from the league's particular political perspective.

Doug Wolter photo
Doug Wolter

April 17, 2022, 9:53 a.m., in the offices of the deputy commissioner of Major League Baseball:

MR. PHELPS: “Good morning sir, I have completed my assignment and I’m prepared now to provide you with a briefing.”

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER: “Ah, there you are, Phelps. I’m all ears.”

PHELPS: “Well, sir, I think it’s clear, as we all suspected, that we have a lot of work to do. Baseball’s fan base continues to hemorrhage, and from the results of my research it may have as much to do with our political actions of the past year than the continuing difficulties of the game itself.”

DEPUTY (stroking his chin): “How do you mean?”

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PHELPS: “Sir, we all know that the sport still suffers from its slow pace of play. It’s boring, sir. We’ve tried to speed things up for years, but it hasn’t helped. This year we even lowered the pitcher’s mound and moved it back another three feet in an effort to create more offense. And we shortened the game to 7 innings. But that just made the purists angry. They say baseball’s records don’t mean anything anymore.”

DEPUTY: “Bilge water. Young people like those changes.”

PHELPS: “Uh, yes. I guess so. But there’s more to it than that.”

DEPUTY: “Meaning…?”

PHELPS: “Alienation, sir. What I mean to say is, last year after we punished Georgia, and with it our major league franchise in that state, the Atlanta Braves, for that law it passed to protect election integrity -- uh, I mean, to suppress voting rights -- baseball suffered a significant decline in interest. We didn’t admit it at the time, but apparently, sir, it was actually true that in 2021 a sizable number of fans lived outside the progressive movement. Some of them weren’t even woke. And they thumbed their noses at us, sir.”

DEPUTY: “Hicks from fly-over country.”

PHELPS: “Not all of them, sir. … There’s more.”

DEPUTY (beginning to visibly become annoyed): “Go on.”

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PHELPS: “Well, Mr. Deputy Commissioner, I have received word from Ohio that they are even now on the cusp of passing an election law similar to the one passed in Georgia. Just as in Georgia, they say it’s meant to eliminate fraud. As you know, sir, we have two franchises in Ohio, based in Cleveland and Cincinnati. What’s more, the Cleveland team, which used to be called the Indians but we changed last year to be called the Cleveland Solidarity, desires to decide for itself what it wants to be nicknamed. Bobcats seems to be gaining traction.”

DEPUTY (shaking his head slightly): “Phelps, about your first point. I will inform Commissioner Obama about this, and I assume he will want to punish Ohio as Georgia was punished. I suspect that President Harris and Vice President Ocasio-Cortez will signal their approval. … How many states have we boycotted thus far?”

PHELPS: “Seven, sir. But only three of them have major league franchises in them.”

DEPUTY: “Good news.”

PHELPS: “Yes, but Ohio has two. I don’t think we can afford …”

DEPUTY: “Nonsense! Baseball can do whatever it wants any time it wants. Don’t you see, man, that we are at the forefront of history? We are making this country better by fighting systemic racism wherever we find it. We can do nothing less. … By the way, how are things going in respect to our major partnership agreement with China?”

PHELPS: “Uh, wonderfully, sir. Our friends in the NBA are helping us as ambassadors of goodwill, so the alliance is moving swiftly toward completion. All China now asks is that our players wear decals on their jerseys supporting its government, and I think we’re good to go.”

DEPUTY: “Marvelous.”

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PHELPS (adjusting his suit collar): “Yes sir, but we still have this problem of fan support. There are some experts who say we’ve run baseball into the ground, that it is already dead as the national pastime, that it’s just a niche sport and that if nothing happens to reverse the trend, it may face an existential crisis of the most extreme nature.”

DEPUTY: “Existential crisis? Bosh! Climate change, now there’s an existential crisis for you.”

PHELPS: “Yes sir.”

DEPUTY: “Remember, Phelps, when the U.S. Congress threatened us with an antitrust lawsuit after that Georgia thing? Nothing ever became of it. It was just an empty threat, and we don’t concern ourselves with empty threats.”

PHELPS: “Yes sir. But the numbers don’t lie. Those fans who left, sir, they’re not coming back.”

DEPUTY (shaking a finger): “Phelps, don’t let yourself get carried away. Lest you forget, our People and Culture office just last week scientifically classified this sport an awkward holdover from America’s xenophobic past. If baseball dies, it dies. But sure, we can try something else. We can always try something else. Coupons? Have we offered coupons yet? Offer the fans coupons at every game they buy a ticket for. Earn 20 of them and you get a free hat. What do you think, Phelps?”

PHELPS: “Yes sir. Very good, sir.”

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