MLB pulls All-Star game from Georgia over new voter suppression law
In this Oct. 7, 2018, file photo, ground crews prepare the field at Sun Trust Park, now known as Truist Park, ahead of Game 3 of MLB baseball's National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta. Truist Park lost the 2021 All-Star Game on Friday, April 2, 2021, when Major League Baseball decided to move the game elsewhere over the league’s objection to Georgia’s sweeping new election law that critics say restricts voting rights. | John Amis/AP

The long, pandemic-filled winter months capping off the surreal year of 2021 are settling in behind us. Spring is in the air. And with it comes our favorite national pastime: Baseball.

MLB’s Opening Day April 2, 2021, comes six months after the end of a short 60-game season last year where fans, self-isolating at home, watched cut-out cardboard fans cheering on their team (in silence) from the stands; flimsy placeholders for where they wanted to be.

Fans are back in the stands now, with limited capacity, and the usual buzz of excitement felt while standing in line for an overpriced hotdog and beer was missing. But it feels a bit more authentic now.

Of course, players wearing masks on the field, and social distancing guidelines in place and enforced are not the only changes taking place at the start of the season. Instead of singing, or belting “take me out to the ball game,” we are now chanting “take the ballgame out of Georgia.”

And MLB did.

The day after the first home run was hit in snowy Detroit by Miguel Cabrera, MLB announced it would be pulling out the All-Star Game from Atlanta over the big league’s objections to the sweeping, and racist changes to Georgia voting laws.

The decision was the first economic salvo against Georgia for the “Jim Crow” voting law Republican Gov. Brain Kemp eagerly signed into law March 25 behind closed doors as police arrested a Black Democratic State Rep. Park Cannon of Atlanta, for knocking on the Capitol’s door.

The 98-page “Election Integrity Act of 2021” limits absentee voting, adds new ID requirements, and criminalizes passing out food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places, among several other restrictive measures.

And while Kemp has attempted to say the voting law’s critics have mischaracterized what it does and does not do, none besides Kemp and his ilk are buying those platitudes.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to move the All-Star Game events and the amateur draft from Atlanta following discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black ballplayers formed after the murder of George Floyd last year, the commissioner said in a statement.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft,” Manfred said. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

The White House said President Joe Biden supported the MLB’s decision—a straightforward answer compared to blubbering jargon of White House #45.

Best way to demonstrate values

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft,” Manfred said. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

Kemp and Georgia Republicans have called the move a “knee-jerk decision” that means “cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left does not agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”

A laughable if not disturbing take given facts tend to show restricting access to the ballot box disproportionately impacts communities of color.

Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, who will manage the National League All-Star Team, applauded the decision.

“I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard — and in this particular case, people of color — for Major League Baseball to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, it sets a tone,” said Roberts, the son of a Black Father and Japanese mother.

Stacy Abrams, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has championed voting rights since her election loss to Kemp, panned the new law, saying: “Georgia Republicans must renounce the terrible damage they have caused to our voting system and the harm they have inflicted on our economy.”

And Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, hailed the decision. “Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All-Star Game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Bottoms said in a statement.

Baseball fans, meanwhile, and as expected, seem divided on the decision. And the same recycled tropes “keep politics out of sports” and calls for boycotts have already started…sad but true. Yet others are glad for the move and see it as a necessary step in correcting racist and restrictive laws calling back some of the worst moments in U.S. political history.

MLB plans to relocate the All-Star Game to Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, according to anonymous sources who spoke to ESPN ahead of the formal announcement Tuesday morning.

Even with a venue change, this year’s All-Star Game will honor Hank Aaron, Braves’ Hall of Famer, and former career home run champion, who passed away, Jan 22, at age 86.

Dusty Baker, a former teammate of Aaron’s and now-Houston Astros manager, supported the MLB move, saying Aaron “always had the rights of the people in the forefront of his mind and his heart… “This is what Hank would have liked, even if it were his town.”

Denver last hosted the All-Star Game, July 7, 1998. The American League beat the National League 13-8, and ‘the Kid” Ken Griffey Jr. won the home run derby by beating Jim Thome.


CONTRIBUTOR

Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.

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