Wittenmyer: MLB, Cubs Should Turn Power Toward Gun-Safety Laws

Wittenmyer: MLB, Cubs should use power for gun-safety laws originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Giants manager Gabe Kapler, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Cubs manager David Ross and other high-profile sports leaders and players have called publicly — and at times angrily — for action in the aftermath of the Texas school shooting that killed 19 kids and two teachers.

Flags flew at half staff from the night of the shooting through the weekend at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park and the South Side’s Guaranteed Rate Field, for elementary school kids —10 days after another 10 people were killed in a racism-motivated shooting at a Buffalo grocery store.

The stick-to-sports crowd likes to say sports is their escape from the real world.

But rewind to Thursday afternoon in Cincinnati, at a sparsely attended ballgame between the Cubs and Reds, when every kid’s scream, cheer and laugh could be heard from the press box and the field — striking an entirely different emotional chord than it should under that half-staff flag.

Try finding the escape at that ballgame, on that day. And that’s not just the weepy sentiment of some liberal media snowflake. Players in both clubhouses talked privately about the effects of the shootings on them, especially on those with young kids.

The fact is it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find escape from this growing national plague (not to mention other plagues), even at ballgames — certainly not at churches, schools, grocery stores or movie theaters.

Ross called it a “sad, bad time” for the country and — along with team president Jed Hoyer — said those in professional sports have an appropriate role they can choose to play in seeking change.

“Anytime you get to get in front of a camera and get in front of millions of people on TV I think you use that platform for the best that you feel you can use it,” he said.

Here’s a proposal, in that spirit, for the most powerful influencers in the country that won’t cost anything more than what they already spend on their legislative agendas:

MLB’s central office and owners, including the Ricketts family, could take the money they currently donate to political candidates and PACs that support the NRA agenda or otherwise have blocked common-sense gun legislation that a majority of Americans support, and reallocate it toward candidates and efforts to support those laws.

Maybe a law, for instance, that might help keep a kid from buying a military-style assault rifle and as much ammo as he wants on his 18th birthday.

Make no mistake: Nobody believes more in the impact of large political donations on achieving legislative results than MLB owners — and maybe none more than the Ricketts family.

If they didn’t, MLB owners wouldn't donate more to candidates and PACs than owners from any other sport, and Joe Ricketts, the patriarch and source of wealth backing Cubs’ family ownership, wouldn’t rank among the Republicans’ top 10 billionaire donors during the 2020 election cycle (per an NBC report in February).

To get the whole Ricketts family on board might take some serious arm-twisting by left-leaning Laura on the likes of brother Pete, the gun-collecting governor of Nebraska, who consistently draws the NRA’s highest ratings.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, obviously, and probably wouldn’t be if not for — as in the case of everything else that moves or doesn’t in Washington — the heavy spending by the lobbies.

From an MLB perspective, real, substantive support for measures that make schools safer can only help business.

If the Rickettses alone were to accept the proposal, that might go as far as any private effort to make real change.

Talk about public relations. Talk about community support and genuine leadership at a “sad, bad time” when it’s needed most.

We might even be moved and inspired enough to take a break from writing about their crappy TV network.

Douche of the week

Inspired by Josh Donaldson, this newly minted weekly award goes to the Cubs-owned Marquee Network for the comically bad coverup attempt and ensuing public spin after censoring a marginally critical conversation about Hoyer’s front office.

It began with last week’s taping of a show called The Reporters that includes few actual reporters, when the taping was abruptly interrupted for purported “technical difficulties” followed by an advisement as taping resumed to avoid the previous topic on lack of transparency over the team’s current rebuild.

That might be the most extreme example yet of the network’s famed Marquee Overly Positive Energy (MOPE).

And exactly who was being protected by that MOPE?

The one who might have the least issue with the kind of criticism that was censored in what he called “the Marquee thing."

“I promise I’m far more self-critical of decisions than you guys are of me,” Hoyer said.

DOW runner-up

Reds outfielder Tommy Pham. Not because he slapped one-time Cub Joc Pederson during BP on Friday over a nearly 10-month-old fantasy football league beef — or that he appeared to make baseball history in the process for the most bizarre reason MLB has suspended a player for three games.

Pham earned his position as a finalist for the award for these comments in explaining the significance of what he perceived as foul play in said high-stakes football league:

“He was messing with my money. … I’m a big dog in Vegas. I’m a high roller at many casinos.”

Takes a lot of MOPE to out-douche that one.

Quote of the week

“That’s why I don’t play fantasy football. That’s got to definitely be up there at No. 1 as the oddest reason I’ve seen guys go at it on a baseball field.”

—Ross on Pham-Pederson Affair.

Take the poll

The Cubs have a new look to their clubhouse and lineups just since the start of their last homestand with the impressive debuts of pitchers Brandon Hughes and Matt Swarmer, Nelson Velázquez and, most impressively, Velázquez’ “bestie” Chris Morel.

Swarmer debuted Monday with one of just nine quality starts by a Cub this year — as many as Drew Smyly, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson combined.

The same day, Velázquez — the Arizona Fall League MVP — debuted with his first big-league hit, beating out an infield nubber to the right of the mound in the second inning of the doubleheader opener.

Some of the openings on the roster were created by a COVID outbreak earlier in the month and what has seemed like a steady stream of injuries, including the mouth injury that landed Jonathan Villar on the IL Monday after an exercise band snapped back and hit him in the mouth.

What do we make of all the debuts?

Crosstown crosscheck

Maybe it could be worse, after all.

Cubs fans may not like what they see from a second lengthy rebuild in a decade or what they hear from an organization that walks and quacks like a duck but claims to be a bulldog.

But they’ve got to feel at least a little sympathy for White Sox fans — if not Tim Anderson’s right groin — who were promised a World Series contender and needed a ninth-inning run and three extra innings Sunday to avoid a sweep of the Cubs over the weekend.

OK, maybe not sympathy exactly.

But consider that the Sox (3-1 vs. Cubs this year) have a losing record in games that aren’t against the Cubs — a team that had half its projected opening roster on the IL the first time they met and sent another guy to the IL for “significant dental work” after getting snapped in the mouth by an exercise band during the second series.

Granted, there’s a lot of season left for both teams as they part ways until next year.

It just might seem a little longer for one of them.

No Canada?

The White Sox headed out from their crosstown home split for Toronto without two players who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and therefore ineligible to enter Canada.

The impact is expected to be minimal compared to some other teams since one of them, Sunday's starter Dylan Cease, wasn't scheduled to pitch in the series anyway. Reliever Kendall Graveman was the other one put on the restricted list Monday ahead of that series.

The Cubs travel to Toronto in August, and Hoyer said recently the Cubs’ roster should be in “pretty good” shape for that trip.

“Not perfect but pretty good,” he said.

Not much of an answer.

“As much as you’re gonna get,” he said.

About that transparency thing…

Minor repairs?

The MOPE network announced a robust scheduled of 39 broadcasts of Cubs minor-league games, starting Wednesday with an Iowa-St. Paul tilt.

Press box wag: “I hear the booth at the I-Cubs ballpark has a 'technical difficulties' dump button for David Bote errors and Nick Madrigal strikeouts during their rehab assignments.”

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