Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

(No) Freedom of Speech


When I titled this blog Political Baseballs, I was using a common euphemism that I thought explained my two great passions in life. (Not discounting my wife, but I think she understands). That is to say, I’m passionate about baseball. And I’m passionate about politics. I never thought the two topics would wind up in the same post. After all, the last time politics and baseball met in the Twilight Zone we were subjected to Mark McGwire suddenly forgetting how to speak, Sammy Sosa suddenly forgetting how to speak English and Raffy Palmeiro suddenly forgetting how to tell the truth. I’ve always relied on baseball to take my mind off the drudgery to which everyday life subjects all of us. I’ve reveled in the game’s unique characters and their antics. I mean, who can forget Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Dick “Dirt” Tidrow from the ’70s? And who didn’t become enthralled with Cal Ripken’s pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s record (yes, even I, the lifetime Yankees fan found myself rooting for him)?

But thanks to the Lords of Baseball and their unrepentant zeal to one-up Roger Goodell and Co. over at the NFL, here we are again. It seems that in their quest to make major league baseball apolitical, they’ve stepped right into the issue of First Amendment rights. Or perhaps I should say, stomped on the First Amendment altogether. And now, MLB is facing the prospect of alienating a whole segment of their fans. Shortsightedness certainly can go a long way.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, last week MLB banned all employees from using their Twitter accounts from commenting on anything other than games or their teams. What seems to have been the inspiration behind this dubious edict is a little known reliever for the Oakland A’s, Brad Ziegler. Ziegler was posting comments on his Twitter account regarding his non-support for a potential sports boycott of Arizona, following that state’s passage of SB1070. As a result of Ziegler’s non-political speech, baseball got nervous. What if other players or writers started using Twitter to voice non-political ideas? Ziegler was adamant over a series of posts that he couldn’t support the ban because he hadn’t read the bill and didn’t know enough about it to take a position. Horrors! Imagine – a public figure stating that the bill should be read and understood before everyone started going loco!

Of course, baseball couldn’t stand for this expression of First Amendment rights. Why, what if ALL of their employees decided that they should tell people to think before they act? What a travesty!

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit. In the end, baseball’s executive office was trying to prevent the firestorm around this bill from consuming the game. Let’s face it; regardless of where you officially make your stand on this, you’re going to alienate one of baseball’s two core constituencies – either the suburbanites who attend most games, or the Hispanic community, which produces half of MLB players. Rather than take a stand and risk alienating ticket buyers or most of their players, baseball decided it would be best to trample on everyone’s inalienable right to expression. Only, it’s not inalienable if your paycheck is signed by Bud Selig, I guess.

By shutting off a reasonable place where fans and players could voice their opinions, they’ve invited their doomsday scenario. Over the weekend, the MLBPA formally requested that Baseball’s All-Star Game for 2011 not be played in Phoenix. Uh, oh. Financially, baseball can’t really afford to do that – it takes 2-3 years to put the shindig together. Baseball’s executives also don’t want to seem as if they’re caving to player pressure – ever. At the same time, they can’t really risk alienating their players. The last time baseball had acrimonious player relations was in the mid-1970’s through early 1990’s. That period saw 4 work stoppages, including the loss of the World Series in 1994. During that time, baseball slipped in popularity from “America’s Pastime” to fall behind football nationally – and has even slipped behind basketball in some cities.

I don’t know how MLB can extricate itself from this mess. My guess is, they can’t.

I’m looking at it this way: Jefferson wrote that our rights were granted by our Creator. Obviously, the Creator is showing Bud Selig the meaning of “inalienable.”

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