The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The message of the Marlins: Don’t play ball

A foul ball that was hit into the stands sits on the ground of an empty stadium during the eighth inning of a baseball game between the Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia on Sunday. (Chris Szagola/AP)
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Mike Wise, a former Post sports columnist, is an author and the host of “The Mike Wise Show.”

“This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” — Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams.”

No, they won’t come, Ray. A global pandemic has reduced the Grand Old Game’s romanticists to cardboard cutouts behind home plate. Don’t keep the field or play, either; the liability is too great. You’ll get sued.

Wear your mask, Ray. Maintain social distance of about an Iowa cornfield from the Miami Marlins. And get over any misguided notion that a return to baseball — and, indeed, to all sports — is essential for our collective mental health right now.

We want sports. We don’t need them.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Major League Baseball won the warped race among the four major-revenue North American sports to see which could kick-start its season first, thereby earning a greater share of viewers longing not so much for their past but anything beyond coronavirus gloom. And for its sincere efforts to enforce protocol and play amid a pandemic, baseball has won ... scorn and scrutiny.

Five days into MLB’s dead-sprint of a 60-game, 66-day season, more than a third of an entire roster tested positive for the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday, 17 players and coaches from the Marlins are on the injured list for a virus with no known cure.

“Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because [players’] health wasn’t being put first,” tweeted Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander David Price. “I can see that hasn’t changed.”

Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner, kept going on about “protocols” on television, insisting the Marlins’ outbreak did not rise to the level of a “nightmare" scenario.

If being unable to field a team isn’t a nightmare scenario, if claiming so many players on waivers and bringing up multiple minor leaguers and ruining the integrity of the competition isn’t a nightmare scenario, what is?

What about a player infecting an older manager, who ends up on a ventilator and dies?

Never have we lost our minds more about sports’ purpose in our lives.

You want to enforce a protocol? Enough already. Come back after our kids can safely walk into their homerooms.

The race won by baseball would have been an admirable one had the players been epidemiologists from different countries and pharmaceutical companies, all working ungodly hours to come up with a coronavirus vaccine.

But they’re not. They’re sports.

They’re owners, coaches and athletes trying to recover deep financial losses already sustained by the halting and postponing of their seasons. They’re enabled by their billions in network television partnerships and fans who have seen the civic unity a special team can bring to a town or a nation and wrongly believe this is the same.

Trust me — it’s not.

I attended games at old Yankee Stadium post-9/11. From Derek Jeter on down, that organization understood when to stand down and when to stand up and reflect the communal hope of their city and country. So did the New Orleans Saints, post-Katrina, who took all of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana on a magic carpet ride.

But the games now aren’t an exit ramp from the doom of the day, that needed sanctuary for our overburdened minds. With each empty stadium and arena, each mask-wearing interviewer boasting about no positive coronavirus tests inside the “NBA bubble,” each Los Angeles Rams player pushing the foot pedal of the team’s Gatorade cooler because he’s not allowed to touch it, sports reinforces the abnormality of our asterisk-filled 2020 world.

Baseball and the Marlins aren’t a metaphor for resilience; they mirror a state unable to breathe. Florida shot past 6,000 fatalities this week, posting its highest rate of new cases since the pandemic began.

We are interested in hearing about how the struggle to reopen amid the pandemic is affecting people's lives. Please tell us yours.

Many years ago I took a test while applying for a job as a high school sports writer. I had to put together a group of facts about a basketball game that included spectacular performances, a packed house and … a raging fire consuming the gym before the game ended, forcing evacuation.

I think I put the high scorers for both teams in the second paragraph and then awkwardly segued into: “In the third quarter, a fire that began outside forced both teams and fans to evacuate the gym.” I didn’t deserve to get that job because I understood neither the context nor the importance of the real news.

There is a fire raging outside our clubhouses, locker rooms and fields of play. It’s called covid-19. It’s undefeated and has no network TV contract. It wants only to attack as many of our immune systems as it can. This is not a time for games.

This is a time to get our house in order. It’s a time to push for desperate unemployed Americans to keep receiving a $600 coronavirus stipend. Before we worry about the Miami Marlins receiving negative test results, we first need to be covid-free as a country.

We need herd immunity, all right — from believing we can’t go on without the games.

The hard truth: Sports need us more than we need them right now.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this op-ed: If nothing else, let us have baseball

Daniel Krauthammer: Baseball’s return: Why we care

George Will’s 2020 Opening Day Quiz

George F. Will: Our national sports withdrawal is agony

Henry Olsen: Major League Baseball should open its season with the All-Star Game