Last week when the lockout imposed by the owners on Dec. 2 forced the postponement of the first week of the season, it sent a signal to fans that can be perceived as indifference, especially after there 43 days of no negotiations that preceded the frenzy that ultimately gave fans false hope of a normal season happening.
As in indifference to anything occurring within the month of April. As in indifference to the any potential milestones that can occur within the first month of a 162-game season. As in indifference towards acknowledging historical achievements such as anniversaries of major events.
While they haggle over things like CBT and other issues, MLB is sending a signal that because it is cold in certain places and not enough people empty their wallets in the spring beyond Opening Day in many places, any event occurring within the first month of the season does not matter, whether it is a debut, the first hit or first win or a milestone of a veteran player or the anniversary of a significant moment.
Consider this, one of the most significant events in the history of baseball is Jackie Robinson’s major league debut. That occurred on April 15, 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers did what the other 15 owners were not willing to do and break the color barrier that prevented greats like Josh Gibson and countless others from playing.
In 1997, two years after current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the players an injunction to end the strike, MLB honored the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with a stirring ceremony at Shea Stadium that was attended by then-president Bill Clinton. It also was an occasion that nobody would wear Robinson’s No. 42 other than current players of the year and each season since then every team wears Robinson’s jersey.
This year, you won’t see that and while it would be noticeable any time an owner-imposed work stoppage causes a postponement, it’s especially noticeable since the likely postponement is coming in the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s debut.
Another notable April milestone in baseball history took place on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron broke the all-time home run record previously held by Babe Ruth when he connected off Al Downing in the launching pad known as Fulton-County Stadium.
Aaron’s milestone was momentous since it occurred in the south, the same part of the country that continued into the 1960s even as baseball gradually integrated with Robinson, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and numerous others.
This year is the 48th anniversary of Aaron’s homer but it falls on an off-day for most teams following their home openers, but any acknowledgment of it will likely be if replays of the game being televised in lieu of games that should have been televised.
However even if anything could not occur on the exact day due to an off-day it warrants a ceremony like for the 40th anniversary in 2014 when former commissioner Bud Selig said: “Baseball is forever our national pastime because of people like Henry Aaron.”
You can imagine what that sentence would sound like coming from current commissioner Rob Manfred, who was last seen pantomiming a golf swing and chuckling before announcing games would be postponed.
As for milestones yet to be reached, those will be delayed until who knows when.
For example, Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th career homer on Aug. 22 in Toronto and finished last season 13 hits shy of 3,000. Last season, Cabrera notched 26 hits in his final 24 games so it is plausible to think he might have reached the 3,000-hit mark in the month deemed insignificant by the actions of MLB.
Cabrera will eventually become the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club, though his boss is not necessarily helping matters given he was cited as one of four owners to vote against raising the CBT, which is among the main things holding up the sport and everyone involved in it.
By showing a willingness to forgo April because of reduced revenue, owners are telling you that the fact Cal Ripken Jr’s 3,000th hit occurred on April 15, 2000 is irrelevant or that anything in April is insignificant, a fact that will be especially enhanced when and if a 12 or 14-team playoff format starts.
Cabrera also finished last season with 1,804 career RBI, leaving him 24 shy of tying Al Simmons for 20th but now there will be less opportunities for him.
No active player is close to 500 career homers but the closest to the milestone is Nelson Cruz, who is 51 away. While it’s likely Cruz would not reach the milestone until the middle part of 2023, showing a willingness to throw away April games may make his quest for the milestone a little more challenging.
In terms of pitching milestones, no one is likely to reach 300 wins and 200 is slowly becoming the new 300 with how pitching is handled these days. The closest to 250 wins is Justin Verlander, who enters with 226 wins after missing virtually all of the previous two seasons.
Regardless of when milestones are reached, games played in April represent chances to get closer to achieving them but by showing a willingness to scrap those games, MLB is demonstrating an indifference about various notable achievements.
Someday, those milestones will be reached and it won’t matter what point of the season it occurred in, but by denying more opportunities to get those achievements, it is apparent history is not high on the list of priorities for a sport suffering from numerous bad optics of late.