The State of Play: Bernie Sanders was the president that baseball needed

In recent weeks, heroism has been on full display across the country. From doctors flying to the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic to treat patients to governors and local officials desperately trying to inform the public and save lives, demonstrations of bravery have not been hard to come by. 

Recent weeks also saw heroism, or at least an incredibly heroic campaign, breathe its final breath when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that he would be suspending his campaign for president. 

In light of this occurrence, I’d like to add some much-needed levity to this column and reference what is indisputably one of the greatest films of all time: “The Dark Knight.” 

Sanders was not the hero that sports deserved, but the hero that sports needed. 

Please put your pitchforks and tiki torches down and just hear me out. I’m not some millennial Marxist recklessly using a sports column as a platform to spread my leftist leanings to the farthest corners of sports fandom. I’m simply trying to tell it like it is. 

Say what you will about Medicare for All, free college or Castro-era literacy programs, but when it comes to sports alone — that singular unifying aspect of American life that both coastal elites and red-state rednecks can bond over— Sanders was your man. 

For some candidates, it was an Ivy League-level education that informed their worldview. For others, it was a personal trauma suffered or injustice endured. For Sanders, it was a bit of both — Sanders attended the University of Chicago and his family struggled to pay his mother’s medical bills. But perhaps more than anything, it was baseball that made him the groundbreaking politician that he is today. 

“I don’t want to tell you that was the sole reason that I’ve developed the politics that I’ve developed,” he said in an interview with The New York Times last January. “But as a kid, I did see in that case … the greed of one particular company. And that impacted me.”

Yes. You heard right. Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism, frequently and falsely compared by the American Right to foreign dictatorships in Venezuela and North Korea, is in fact all-American. 

To add some context, in the quote above, Sanders is referring to a horrific, arguably tragic development of his childhood: the moment the Brooklyn Dodgers betrayed the trust of fans like Sanders and left the outer boroughs of New York for the sunny, palm tree-lined pastures of Los Angeles.

The decision to move was made in 1957, after New York City’s de facto emperor of land development Robert Moses rejected Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley’s plans to build a larger, more profitable stadium. 

O’Malley decided to move his team to Los Angeles after the rejection. To this day, assigning blame in the decision has been controversial, but by and large, fans like Sanders still feel their hometown team was stripped from their neighborhood for the sole pursuit of profit. 

To this day, Sanders considers O’Malley’s decision one of the worst moments of his life, and in the decades since, Sanders, now 62 years older, has transformed into a political champion of sorts — a champion for universal health care, a political revolution and, you guessed it, baseball. 

This fall, the Professional Baseball Agreement is set to expire. The PBA governs the relationship between baseball’s major and minor leagues. MLB’s top brass views the agreement’s expiration as an opportunity to save money by giving 42 minor league teams the axe. 

Sanders has been one of the most vocal critics of MLB’s plan, arguing that baseball is a social institution and that minor league teams play a key role in bringing together their local communities. 

Like sports fans across the country, Sanders appreciates the merits of having a local team. He recognizes sports’ ability to forge communities among the most disparate of Americans and knows all too well the pain of losing that kind of community. 

Never mind the fact that the MLB is a federally protected enterprise that scored $1.2 billion in profit just last year. If you’re Joe Sixpack, do you really want to see your local minor league ball club get canned just so the Yankees can hand out some fatter contracts? If you’re a young ballplayer trying to make it one day in the majors, do you want to see your chances evaporate just so some rich owner can get his rocks off to some more cash?

In an era when the NFL prioritizes profits over players’ health and the NBA finds itself in a Faustian bargain with the PRC, Sanders is fighting the good fight, defending baseball and the interests of its fans and young players against the corporate behemoth that is MLB.

For that, we should be thankful for what the senator has done. Sanders’ campaign might not have been your cup of tea, but at the end of the day, he fought for the working man, for the downtrodden and forgotten and for sports fans everywhere, he fought for baseball. 

Stuart Carson is a junior writing about the intersection of sports, politics and American society. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column, “The State of Play,” typically runs every other Wednesday.