The start of the Major League Baseball season has proven that everything really is bigger in Texas.
The Texas Rangers failed to account for the ongoing pandemic when they packed at least 38,000 fans inside Globe Life Field for the team’s home opener April 5. Pictures from the stadium show swaths of maskless fans packed shoulder to shoulder.
The return of full-capacity events could have been a celebratory, historic sports moment. Each fan could have saved a ticket stub and proof of vaccination. The collective roar of 30,000-strong could have been the exclamation point on the country’s renewed ability to congregate without caveats.
But instead, sold-out baseball has become the latest national embarrassment. Every rung of the professional baseball hierarchy that enabled the Texas Fun House — league offices, teams, players, coaches — deserves a slice of that shame.
The biggest piece should be served to MLB executives. While MLB recently made the right decision in moving the All-Star Game out of Georgia over the state’s voter suppression laws, it has neglected to enforce similar accountability in Texas. There seems to be no policing of baseball in a state that has become, quite literally, the Wild West.
On the same day that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lifted all COVID-19 limitations on businesses, the Rangers announced they would operate at 100% capacity. In Trumpian fashion, MLB kept quiet on the issue, deferring responsibility to its local governments. That left the decision in the hands of Ray Davis, the billionaire oil magnate and Rangers owner, who opted to enjoy his shiny new stadium at full volume.
The differences between MLB’s approach to coronavirus in Texas and voting rights issues in Georgia is brazenly opportunistic. The Atlanta decision came after the league already received pressure from players and sponsors. The high-profile gesture allowed MLB to get out from under a tenuous situation with a media-friendly, “progressive” stance that also holds widespread appeal; a majority of U.S. adults (59%) believe voting should be made easier for every citizen. As a private corporation with immense public influence, MLB can selectively lean into political positions (like “We Support Voting”) that appease large contingencies of fans.
But when it comes to governing COVID-19 inside stadiums, it makes sense for MLB to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. The handling of the coronavirus is a far more divisive issue, particularly in Texas, where less than half of registered voters (49%) expressed serious concern about the spread of the virus. With each team following different local guidelines and making its own call on fan capacity, MLB washes its hands of a potentially polarizing decision, and dilutes it to 30 less-remarkable decisions. Yankees fans feel comfortable at 20% capacity, while Texans still enjoy their supersized baseball experience — even when it’s topped with a grave threat to public health.
Time and time again, MLB executives show they are more corporately minded than morally upright. Considering the Commissioner’s Office has cancelled and postponed games from COVID-19 outbreaks before, the league certainly could have pushed the envelope to stop the largest super spreader of them all: a gathering of 38,000+ at Globe Life Field.
The buck doesn’t totally stop at the top. The Texas Rangers have capitalized on coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy, tapping into the wallets of fans unafraid to pay for seats without much shoulder-room. On April 5, the Rangers sold all 40,300 seats inside their new stadium. Even the Houston Astros — a team still embroiled in the game’s greatest cheating scandal — had the decency to stymie their greed to a still-uncomfortable 50% capacity. About four hours north in Arlington, the Texas Rangers organization blatantly showed more interest in the “Rangers” than “Texas.”
The players and coaches deserve a little bit of chin music, too. In the NBA bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks set the most recent precedent for a successful boycott, proving that public opinion is quick to side with athletes on social causes and capable of pressuring leagues into readjusting their policies. With some bravery and an elevated sense of perspective, players could have refused to do what they love most — perform in front of a sold-out crowd — to protect the greater good. But too many have conveniently bought into a false narrative of normalcy.
“It was definitely cool, that extra little adrenaline warming up and getting into the game,” said Blue Jays starting pitcher Steven Matz after Toronto’s 6-2 victory over Texas on opening day. “It was fun. It felt really good to have fans in the stands.”
Baseball is a game that requires patience. Yet when it comes to COVID-19, nobody in the sport seems to have any.