The Haves & Have-Nots of Pro Baseball: Privilege Meets Pandemic

DrLefty’s home office

by DrLefty

As many of you know, MrLefty and I moved last summer to a brand-new condo. He works from home most of the time, so we needed a dedicated home-office space, comfortable furniture for him to sit on/at all day, and the best high-speed Wifi money could buy. Home-office furniture was the first thing we bought for our new place. I don’t need a home office as much as he does because I have a nice campus office just two miles from our home, but we’re sharing the space at home anyway, and I have my own side of the home office with my own furniture. You can see a photo of my office space above.

When UC Davis suddenly shifted in March to remote instruction, I was already set up for it. I did end up buying a new iMac a couple of weeks ago (which you can see in the photo) because my older one was laboring, freezing, and otherwise not cooperating. The biggest adjustment MrLefty and I have had to make is figuring out who gets the office space when one of us needs to be on a Zoom meeting or conference call.

My colleagues in the department are, mostly, not as fortunate as I am. One had her husband build a “she-shed” in the backyard so she could have some space from her school-age kids when she’s conducting class via Zoom. Another posted a photo on Facebook of herself in her master bedroom closet, again so she could get away from her kids, sitting at a tiny preschooler-size table and chair with her laptop. Another had to buy a new router for her apartment so that her Wifi would work well enough for teaching.

Those colleagues are luckier still than one of our graduate student instructors, who is trying to teach class from the apartment bedroom they share with roommates, using a six-year-old Dell laptop and coping with spotty Wifi. Or our chief administrative officer (CAO), who runs an entire support staff team that assists the two large departments in our building. She is doing her work from her kitchen table, using a laptop so ancient that she has to call into Zoom meetings with the dean from her cell phone because she doesn’t have video capability.  Oh, and her grandkids, who live with her, are home from school, of course.

What does any of this have to do with the Giants and major league baseball? Hang with me. I’ll get to it.

Andrew Baggarly’s latest piece in The Athletic discusses, with accompanying Tweets and Instagram photos and videos, how various Giants players are trying to do their jobs and maintain baseball readiness for whenever they get to resume their professional careers. In a “Baggs and Brisbee” podcast, outfielder Mike Yastrzemski describes the virtual reality (VR) headset system he uses to practice hitting against National League pitchers in the backyard of his home in Nashville. Hunter Pence and his wife Lexi are sheltering-in-place in a rental home in Scottsdale; he has a batting cage set up in the backyard. Brandon Crawford has a spacious home with gym space and an enormous yard. In a cute Instagram video, you can see his four-year-old son, Braxton (a lefty!), throwing him “batting practice.”

 

In contrast, there’s Mauricio Dubon, who’s staying in a high-rise apartment in Miami. Here’s how he works out.

 

Or Jarlin Garcia, the lefty reliever trying to make the team, playing catch across a gravelly residential road to try to keep his arm in shape.

 

In this extended analogy, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, and Mike Yastrzemski are me. (Yes, Yaz, too. He may not have the multi-millions that Craw and Pence have earned, but as the grandson of a Hall-of-Famer and an alum of a prestigious private university and baseball program, he had “connections” which enabled him to get the VR kit at minimal cost.) Dubon and Garcia are the lecturers. Baggarly didn’t discuss the plight of minor leaguers, especially those from other countries, but you can assume they’re more like our grad students and our CAO in this story.

Should the university be providing everyone with the furniture, electronics, bandwidth, and even dedicated space they need to do their jobs remotely? Yes, they should be, but they’re also hemorrhaging red ink. Should the Giants be sending VR kits to everyone? Should they find a better spot for Dubon, who’s expected to be a regular on the team, to practice and keep in shape? Well–yes, they should, but again, they are facing a zero-revenue scenario with no end in sight.

It’s easy to see the inequities. It’s easy to judge employers for not doing whatever it takes to keep their employees operating as effectively as is possible under these difficult circumstances. What is harder to peg is what the short- and long-term effects of these differences will be on the haves and have-nots. Will Yaz have an advantage over Dubon when everyone gets back to work? How will this layoff affect younger players whose time is now and who are trying to grab and keep their seat at the table–or guys on the fringe like Jarlin Garcia? What about players in AA and AAA? Youngsters in the low minors still have plenty of time, but most players in the upper-minors are well into their 20s. And what about players in high school or college now, whose window of opportunity may slam shut while everything is on hiatus?

What will be the outcome for the COVID generation of baseball players, and how will fans and baseball historians look back on it? It’s hard to say. But now, more than ever, we see that while talent matters and hard work matters, privilege matters, too. It’s easier for me, at the top of this privilege pyramid, to do my job with excellence right now than it is for many of my coworkers. It just is.

It’s always been true. It’s just easier to see right now, and not just in baseball.

Or you could be Johnny Cueto, riding on a pony.  Lefty out.