Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti raised a red warning flag this week saying the surge of COVID-19 in Los Angeles could again shut down the city. One of my first thoughts was will the mayor stop Major League Baseball resuming at Dodger Stadium, even with no fans?  The fate of the Dodgers could serve as a symbol on the direction the city and state are taking in dealing with the coronavirus.

There is precedent for playing baseball even in a dark period. That occurred in World War II, when a month after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt made it known that baseball should continue as the country geared up for the war effort to give citizens some respite from the stress of the times. A return to baseball today would be an upbeat note that the city and the region need right now. More on the World War II experience in a moment.

Following reports from Los Angeles County that the area continued to produce high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 victims—four-thousand plus new cases, over two-thousand hospitalizations, one-out-four COVID-19 patients in the hospital entering Intensive Care Units, and the death count mounts–Mayor Garcetti said, “While the city of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 threat level remains at orange, we are on the border of going to red. Red is when everything shuts down again to our strictest level.” 

Garcetti added, “I do want to warn people that we’re close to that.” 

The virus spread has been attributed to residents ignoring the requirements to wear masks in public and keep their distance. New reporting indicates that masks not only help prevent the spread of disease from mask users, but also protects the mask users from picking up the virus. Don’t gather in large groups, and especially, keep any group get-togethers outdoors is also sound advice. When the medical suggestions are ignored the virus finds new victims. 

If Los Angeles does go into the danger zone and shuts down “to our strictest level,” as Garcetti put it, doesn’t that mean that even the baseball games at Dodger Stadium will have to close. Lack of social distancing and no masks would be a prerequisite to play the game at its highest level. Shouldn’t baseball be called off as example to the people that we must adhere to rules to beat the virus? 

In other words, is baseball closing a symbol that we must all adhere to the rules to overcome the disease; or is baseball opening a symbol that there will be a return to some sort of normal someday and that our minds can be taken off the troubles for a short time, at least. 

The latter was one of the reasons that President Roosevelt gave the green light to baseball in January 1942. 

Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to the president that baseball was ready to close down for the duration of the war, if Roosevelt thought that advisable. In a response the next day, Roosevelt wrote in his personal view, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.”

In contrast to today’s situation with COVID-19 that has left many unemployed and stressed by the medical and financial situations they face, Roosevelt argued that because of the war there would be fewer unemployed. However, while he said baseball would provide recreation and allow workers to take their minds off their work, similarly today, a baseball game would add recreation and take people’s minds off the troubles of the day. 

The nature of the game changed because of the war, with big stars like Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Ted Williams joining military service, which opened the door for some unexpected major leaguers like not-quite 16-year-old Joe Nuxhall and Pete Gray, a one-armed outfielder. The COVID-19 threat might keep some of the top players of today joining their teams. Superstar Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels has wondered aloud if he should play given that the birth of his first child will happen soon. 

First respecting any advice from medical authorities that would definitely prohibit play, I fall on the side of allowing games to go on. It would be a boost to moral to a worn-down populace who have abruptly been taken out of their comfortable routines. 

Let’s hope things don’t get worse. But citizens should heed Garcetti’s warning and  help keep that red alert at bay. Meanwhile,   let’s play ball.