In the wake of NBA Center Jason Collins “coming out of the closet” today, and becoming the first “Big Four” active player to do so, I was reminded of a post I did earlier this month: The Biggest Stories That Haven’t Happened Yet. If you want to read it, just click the link to the left, or go below the jump to read a reprint. With the exception of the deletion of a call to go below the jump to read after the first paragraph of the story, it is printed completely as it originally was, with no changes, updates or corrections.
I once wrote an article on things that hadn’t happened in a baseball game yet. Today’s article is about something else: the biggest baseball stories that haven’t happened yet, the ones off the field (or at least not only on the field). We’re talking the stories that would get attention beyond seamheads like you or me.
An Openly Gay Major Leaguer
In the past few weeks, it’s felt like every few days there is some rumor or rumbling that a active player in one of the major sports leagues is going to “come out of the closet” and reveal they are homosexual.
Just a few days ago, for example, former Ravens line-backer/special teams player Brandon Ayanbadejo, known for his outspoken support for gay rights, said that he had heard that four NFL players were planning on coming out on the same day in order to spread the coverage, and thus any possible backlash (earlier, he had suggested that it was also possible a MLB player could come out first, due to his personal perception that the religious roots in some MLB clubhouses aren’t as deep as they are in the NFL and NBA). A ESPN The Magazine survey found that 5% of MLB players knew of an active player who was gay. It feels like something is going to happen on this front, and likely sooner rather than later. Of these “biggest stories”, this is probably the first one that will happen.
The question is, what happens after it happens? In my opinions, it would depend so much on a bunch of other variables.
If a NFL player or NBA player has already come out, for example, the effect of a MLB player revealing their sexuality may (or may not) not be seen as big of a deal, but if an MLB player is the first male athlete in a major sports league to come out, it’ll possibly be- and I am only slightly exaggerating here- the biggest baseball story- if not SPORTS story- since Jackie Robinson. Well, maybe. You see, another variable is how good the player is. If it’s a bench-warming utility infielder, it won’t be as big a story as if it’s a All-Star. The reaction amongst the player’s teammates as well as baseball fans and the general public could also vary greatly depending on who it is. The reaction could also differ based on when in the year it occurred, what city the player was in, etc.
As I mentioned, it’s likely that the above story is going to happen in the relatively near future- I’d be shocked if it still hasn’t happened in 5-10 years. The rest of these, however, are probably farther in the future- if they happen at all.
A (Mainland) Chinese Major Leaguer
It’s possible that the most important NBA player since Michael Jordan is not Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, but rather Yao Ming, who opened the world’s most populous nation (and thus most lucrative potential market) to the league. While Yao had his career derailed by injury, and follow-up Chinese players like Yi Jianlian have flopped, the NBA remains perhaps the most popular sports league in the Middle Kingdom, light-years ahead of the NFL and MLB.
While certainly MLB is putting plenty of efforts into trying to cultivate Chinese baseball, it’s unlikely that they will get even a fraction of the NBA’s Chinese influence until a player actually born in China makes the major leagues. Given that there are no Chinese-born players in the minors right now, and that the Chinese baseball program is basically kept around simply due to American funding and some Chinese government funds, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. But when and if it does, it’ll be a huge story on both sides of the Pacific.
A Female Major Leaguer (or even affiliated minor leaguer)
There have been a few women who have played professional baseball. Ila Borders, for example, played in the independent leagues in the 1990s. Jackie Mitchell famously struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in Chattanooga (although some believe it was a deliberate publicity stunt). At least three women played in the Negro Leagues.
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a woman playing in MLB or even the affiliated minors anytime soon- after all, it’s something that would be seen coming from miles away as the woman played well in High School and/or College- but it could happen, and when/if it does, it’ll probably be because of the knuckleball: Eri Yoshida of Japan has played in independent leagues in both Japan and America using a knuckler, for example, and Chelsea Baker– who had been taught the knuckleball by the late Joe Niekro (seriously), has apparently been approached to play in a women’s baseball league in Japan.
So, who knows? Perhaps one day there may be a woman playing in Major League Baseball.
The 21st-Century Multi-Sport Superstar
The days of the super-athlete are over. While there have been several players since Deion Sanders who have briefly done more than one sport professionally, inevitably they end up dropping one to focus on another, either due to financial concerns or time concerns. It’s likely that, given the increased specialization of youth sports and the aforementioned concerns about time and finances, that we will never again see a Bo Jackson, or even a Deion Sanders.
But imagine if we did? Imagine if we saw another player who did well in both MLB and the NFL simultaneously (due to the fact that there is far less season overlap between the two, especially due to how the NFL has one game a week, it’s far more likely that we will see a MLB-NFL dual-sport athlete than, say, NBA-NHL or MLB-NBA), and not just any player, but a good player. Imagine how much scrutiny and attention he’d get: is he putting himself above his teammates, is he favoring one team over the other? And just imagine all of the endorsements!
It’s likely that, like Bo Jackson’s brief career and the on-again-off-again nature of Deion’s stints in baseball, it would be short-lived, but during it’s height, it would make “Tebowmania” or “Linsanity” look like minor discussions on the ESPN sportscape.
The Doomsday Scenario
While the others are positive scenarios, there is, of course, also the opposite: the doomsday scenario. It could happen at any time, but let us all hope it never does: a disaster (whether it be plane crash, natural disaster or act of terrorism) leaves most of a baseball team dead or seriously injured.
It can, of course, happen. In fact, it has happened as recently as 2011, when almost the entirety of the Russian hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was lost in a plane crash. It was not the first time it had happened. Among the teams that have fallen to tragedy include the Marshall Thundering Herd in 1970, Manchester United in 1958, and the 1961 USA Figure Skating team.
It is a horrifying thing to even imagine, but as sadistic as it may seem, Major League Baseball actually has a plan in place for such an occurrence. It is covered under Rule 29 of the MLB Rules/Constitution, entitled “MAJOR LEAGUE DISASTER PLAN” and covering everything from what would cause the plan to take effect (the “death, dismemberment or permanent disability from playing professional baseball” of five players during the season or six during the offseason) to what would then occur.
So what would occur?
Well, first off, MLB and the Player’s Association would be able to declare a mourning period during which games would be cancelled. Then there would be a determination of whether the club would continue the season, with consideration taken of “the date of the occurrence, the standing of the Disabled Club at the time of the occurrence, the Disabled Club’s wishes and the integrity of the game of Baseball.”
Then, there would be a “restocking draft”, which would, in essence, be a modified version of an expansion draft- although, unlike an expansion draft, the players made available would have to be on MLB active rosters, with each team making available 5 players (one pitcher, one catcher, one infielder, one outfielder and one wild card of any position), although there would also be some restrictions placed upon the draft dealing with service time, no-trade clauses and if a team only has one or two catchers.
In addition, the “disabled club” would possibly be given further help, such as more draft picks or priority in waiver claims.
Let’s just hope that this “biggest story” never happens.