The idea that Sean Doolittle wouldn’t want to play baseball is one of the most ridiculous notions that anyone could come up with, and completely ignorant of the path the Washington Nationals reliever took in his career.
Doolittle started his professional career as a first baseman and outfielder in the Oakland A’s system. Drafted in 2007, he made it to Triple-A in 2009 and put up an .812 OPS in 28 games for the Sacramento RiverCats.
Why only 28 games? Doolittle got hurt, needing surgeries on both of his knees, which not only ended his year in 2009, but erased his 2010 campaign and all but one rookie-league inning in 2011 — an injury to his non-throwing wrist raised the possibility of another missed season, and the possible end of his career.
Instead, Doolittle turned to pitching, which he had not done since college, and transformed into one of the best pitchers in the game. While he’s known as the rare major leaguer with leftist political views and a fondness for independent bookstores, Doolittle is 33 and knows that every day he’s not playing baseball is a day closer to the end of his journey in a sport that he’s worked so hard in which to become a champion.
“Some people telling me to stay home if I don’t want to play,” Doolittle tweeted on Tuesday morning, in response to critics of an extensive and well-reasoned thread he posted on Monday about MLB’s plans to start the 2020 season. “We’re asking these questions BECAUSE we want to play. We want to restart the season again. We also want everyone it would require to resume a baseball season to be as safe as possible.”
Doolittle has been sharing links about science, about the unknowns of COVID-19, about the dangers faced by players with underlying conditions and the managers, coaches, and support staff who would be necessary for MLB to have a season. He’s asking the questions that need to be asked, and that don’t seem to be getting asked by a league desperate to salvage at least a few dollars of revenue out of this pandemic-stricken year.
While MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is absolutely right that ownership is trying to make an end run to a salary cap as part of its restart plan, and money is going to be a big point of contention no matter what winds up happening, the financial aspects are not where the players should be taking this discussion. Even though owners are far more well-heeled and are the ones who take loads of public money, the “greedy players” argument has been a winning one for management for decades.
What baseball’s players need to do is what Doolittle is doing. They need to emphasize that it’s wrong to start a season if it means taking coronavirus tests away from people who truly need them. They need to hammer home the point that it’s not just about risking their health, which of course they’re willing to do every time they step on the field, but about the risks posed to everyone they’d come in contact with, from food service workers to bus drivers to hotel employees — especially since there just seems to be an assumption that all those people would be willing to do whatever is asked, and very little said about what would be done to protect anyone. They need to make this about not cranking up the apparatus of an entertainment industry at a time when there are still tens of thousands of new cases of the virus popping up daily, including at the White House, where tests are being conducted daily. How can baseball expect to proceed safely when officials at the highest levels of the government are getting infected?
South Korea was only just able to start its baseball season because the load of new coronavirus cases hasn’t been over 100 since March 31. They’re also playing in Taiwan, where there have been 440 cases, total, and never a day with more than 27 people diagnosed — and that high came on March 20.
The numbers in the United States don’t necessarily have to be that low before it’s safe for Major League Baseball to get back on the field. Geographically, this is an enormous country, and it’s theoretically possible to isolate the virus a bit even with somewhat higher numbers. But we’re also nowhere near that and the signs aren’t exactly positive. Wanting to listen to science and keep people from getting sick and dying doesn’t mean Doolittle doesn’t want to play baseball. It means that even though he desperately wants to play baseball, he has his priorities in order in a way that the people running his sport don’t.