Yesterday Ozzie Smith and Budweiser teamed up to start a campaign to make baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. Smith did a number of interviews making the case to give every worker an official day off on what has become an unofficial holiday for many. Budweiser, owned by InBev, released a YouTube video and webpage promoting the effort. Both are pushing for 100,000 signatures for a petition to be sent to the White House. If they succeed, the White House will be forced to give some kind of response.
The campaign has about as much chance of succeeding as Smith coming back to hit another game winning homerun in the playoffs. Still, stranger things have happened in American politics. Here is the summary of the case for and against making Opening Day a national holiday.
The Case For
Americans are already overworked. Many other industrialized nations (see Germany, Denmark, and Canada for example) have over eight paid national holidays on their calendar. The United States has zero, though many employers do voluntarily pay for holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.
While it may seem superficial, sports do have a special unifying nature which was perhaps best explained by Nelson Mandela who once stated,
“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
And while football has now exceeded baseball in popularity, baseball has a longer history of being identified as a uniquely American game, as best explained by Walt Whitman,
“[I]t's our game; that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution's laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”
As Smith explained in a recent interview, Opening Day is already an unofficial holiday in many towns. Making the holiday official may help to further unite a population which appears more and more divided in almost every other arena of life.
The Case Against
Making Opening Day a national holiday may be seen as trivializing the other holidays. One could argue that Opening Day does not belong in the same category as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Independence Day, and Memorial Day.
Another downside is that not every American is a baseball fan. Theoretically every American has a reason to celebrate Independence Day, but the same cannot be said for many Americans who could care less about most sports, and especially about baseball.
Then there is always a concern about lost productivity. While Americans do have less time off then every other nation, this also helps to make us more productive and, theoretically at least, increase our overall wealth. The question then becomes whether more time off would help make workers more productive over the long term.
Every baseball fan will love Smith’s idea, which is sure to generate plenty of cheap publicity for Budweiser. However, unless the concept can find a broader theme to incorporate more Americans it is hard to justify passing a law to make Opening Day a federal holiday. Instead, Opening Day will just have to remain an unofficial holiday for millions of Americans who secretly listen to the game on their radios or watch for updates on their work computer.