MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Opening Day in Time of COVID-19 is Deja Vu All Over Again

This week marks the Opening of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Season.

Normally, MLB Opening week would feature me wearing my finest Tampa Bay Rays gear as I welcome the possibly of all that is to come over the six-month plus season.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continued presence of COVID-19, in the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again” as teams are canceling games and league officials are acting like they can wish away a global health pandemic merely by declaring themselves open for business and welcoming fans and their wallets with open arms.

In a perfect world the start of the 2021 MLB season would be cause for celebration as I cheer the Tampa Bay Rays on as they defend their American League Championship Crown. Unfortunately, thanks to the continued nagging presence of COIVD-19, that level of excitement is tempered by the fact that once again baseball is being played in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Last year, the Miami Marlins became the victims of an early season COVID-19 outbreak that caused them to cancel games.

This year, that honor falls to the Washington Nationals who saw their opening series get cancelled due to COVBID-19 outbreaks in the clubhouse.

To paraphrase Alanis Morrisette, it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, I mean a little too ironic, I really do think, that a year after Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening day pitch for the Nationals that they would have a COVID-19 outbreak. Didn’t they listen when Dr. Fauci told them to wear masks and social distance to avoid spreading the virus?

A year after welcoming Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the first pitch, the Washington Nationals are stating the 2021 MLB season on the sidelines after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of their opening series.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein lies the rub, while the COVID-19 situation is improving this year compared to where things stood last year thanks to vaccines and other factors, numerous health officials are continuing to caution and urge continued vigilance in fighting the virus.

Despite these ongoing warnings from health officials, many state leaders have declared the virus over and are opening things wide open.

Case in point, the Lone Star State of Texas. After the Texas governor removed all remaining restrictions on masks, venue capacity, and other measures, the Texas Rangers are set to open to full capacity for their games. Other teams are welcoming fans back at various capacity levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to go to the Ballpark and watch some baseball. However, I am not going to be so selfish while people are still dying from a virus that can be mitigated through mask wearing and social distancing.

With capacity restrictions in Texas lifted by the governor, the Texas Rangers seem to have declared “Mission Accomplished” against COVID-19 has they became the only MLB team to open their Ballpark to full capacity for the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

I am also not so arrogant as to think that just saying something really loudly makes it true. I mean if one could just wish away inconvenient things, I would have declared victory over my statistics class in grad school instead of struggling every week with hours of homework on formulas I will likely never use again.

As I have said many times before, the selfish desire to see live sports in person is likely allowing the virus to spread. At the very least, it is horrible optics for leagues and teams to welcome fans back when all public health officials are urging us to restrain from gatherings for just a little bit longer.

Other countries have sports, and their fans would likely love to be seeing games in person as well. But for the most part, one does not see the same type of thumbing of noses at public health policy in other countries as one sees in the United States of America.

I am sure that many people in those countries around the world find it quite peculiar that a country with “united” in its name could be so divided when it comes to caring about others before themselves.

In addition to MLB Opening Week, this is also Easter weekend. For those who believe in the biblical account of Easter, versus only following the furry egg giving rabbit side of Easter, the season is a time to remember an ultimate sacrifice made in order to save others.

It is telling therefore that a country founded in part on those beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.

It is telling that a country founded in part on beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.
Photo R. Anderson

When lock down restrictions were being rolled out in the early part of the virus response in 2020 many churches were the most vocal about feeling that their right of assembly was being taken away from them.

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker in the pre-meme days that asked What Would Jesus Do? I am just spit balling here but I am pretty sure that Jesus would not hold large indoor gatherings of mask-less people in the middle of a pandemic.

I cringe each time I see someone who identifies as Christian on the news decrying how masks infringe on their freedoms. I also still shake my head at trying to figure out how the Second Amendment gets thrown into the discussions on masks.

Can one really call themselves a Christian and be anti-mask and ignore science and common sense? Isn’t that the same thing as trying to be a fan of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at the same time? The two beliefs are simply incompatible.

One cannot believe the Bible and be anti-mask anymore then they can cheer the Bronx Bombers while singing Sweet Caroline. One cannot follow the biblical teachings that say do unto others, while refusing to wear a mask that health officials say protects those around us.

It certainly should give people something to reflect upon during this Easter season.

Speaking of reflection, for years baseball has been called the National Pastime. As such, I get that people want to be taken out to the ballgame for a few hours of entertainment. Lord knows I would love to see the sights and sounds of a Ballpark. It has been nearly two years since I last saw a baseball game in person.

I had hoped when my plans to travel to Spring Training in 2020 were cancelled that I would make up for it in 2021 but this was not the year to do that.

If everyone does their part and gets vaccinated when their turn comes, things will return to normal. If that occurs, hopefully by 2022 I will be enjoying Spring Training baseball once more.

However, if people continue to prematurely declare “mission accomplished” and ignore the science we will continue to have virus hot spots pop up and will never truly be able to return to normal.

Easter and MLB Opening Week are both time for reflection for believers of the biblical account, as well as for those who like Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy believe in the Church of Baseball.

Whatever one believes in terms of religion, or who they follow in terms of a baseball team, when it comes to COVID-19 we should have all been one unified front against a common enemy since day one. Instead of unity over a year later we are still a house divided and made up of warring factions convinced that their beliefs are the only true beliefs.

There will come a time when historians will look back at this COVID-19 era and provide a postmortem on what went wrong and what was done right. Now is the time to do more right to send COVID-19 away for good.

If we don’t it will continue to be that pesky thing that continues to get under our skin and causes problems, kind of like that annoying drunk person who always seems to find me at the Ballpark no matter where I am sitting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball themed Easter eggs to hide.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson