Major League Baseball—yes, yes, I know, cue the Pavlovian shudder at the very mention of the name—did something relatively swiftly for a change, and it didn’t involve rewriting the rulebook to have pitchers throw out of a yogurt-filled trench. They watched Georgia pass its “Vote? You Think You Get A Vote Just Because You’re A Citizen” bill and semi-promptly yanked the 2021 All-Star Game out of town. They haven’t yet announced where it’s going, so just be thankful there isn’t an MLB franchise in Arkansas.
But the fact that the franchise operators did anything at all represents a small but noteworthy act that works against what many of them would regard as their basic rooting interest. They would have had a hard time explaining why they would be honoring Henry Aaron in a state that would try to figure out how to make him forfeit his vote.
In other words, this is pretty much a no-brainer except to the rich folks whose only real objection to the status quo is that it represents too much change too fast. Marrow-deep right-wing Republican donor and San Francisco Giants owner Charlie Johnson is probably looking at his campaign contribution receipts and groaning, “Well, that’s $2,900 down the toilet.”
But the blueprint for this seemingly rational yet thoroughly self-protective act by MLB has been laid down before. The NFL yanked a Super Bowl out of Arizona because of its refusal to acknowledge Martin Luther King’s birthday and the NBA later yanked an All-Star weekend from Charlotte because of a retrograde transgender bathroom policy. Both times, the politicians took the hint and reversed their actions, and they got the games back because … this will come as a surprise to you, but money.
The kneejerk-into-your-own-throat reaction would be to ask why MLB wouldn’t consider trying to do more—like, say, trying to move the Braves out of Georgia until such time as it ends its anal-cranial inversion, but then there’s Stacey Abrams, who sees mere progressives in her rear-view mirror as she speeds toward greater enlightenment, and who tweeted this:
And suddenly the possibility of reassessment rose its leonine head.
The Toronto Blue Jays have colonized Dunedin because of COVID restrictions in Canada that look increasingly sensible, and there are other cities who could house the Braves until Georgia’s state house is razed and/or converted into either a Magic City or a Waffle House and/or filled with changed and penitent minds. This is a stiffer thumb in the eye of the Georgia pols who saw change at the ballot box and decided to burn the ballots in response, and to the extent that the Braves could change minds in their absence that they have not during their residence—they were one of the only franchises that did not take part in MLB’s get-out-the-vote initiatives—that would give the pols the kind of conjunctivitis that lingers awhile.
On the other hand, Abrams raises the most compelling of countervailing arguments: Don’t go. Stay and fight.
The Braves by staying could have more aggressively engaged the issue of voting rights in the state they do business in, but that would mean getting crossways with the political class that gave them money for their new stadium away from near-central Atlanta and inaccessible by public transit. But it would be a stand for the correct that would reach the demographic with which baseball says it wants to reconnect: young, and not yet ruined.
Fortunately we don’t have to mull the possibility of the Braves doing the noble thing because they sent this, perhaps penned (or at least proofread) by John Rocker:
This from the folks who reversed decades of stadium-location thought by white-flighting their way to the suburbs for a new park to replace the one they had built for them only 20 years earlier. Now that’s a metaphor for you.
At least the Braves, bereft of the All-Star Game and accompanying season-long commemorative sleeve patch, now have the room to consider putting a proper Hank Aaron patch on their jerseys to honor the man who legitimized major league baseball in Georgia.
But while we watch South Carolina congressman and ambulatory chum bucket Jeff Duncan threaten legislation to end baseball’s antitrust exemption (the right thing for the wrong reason), we are left with this, and the hope that on the ground, those fighting the good fights will continue to do the work. Watching Rob Manfred do the right thing in person, to go along with saying the right thing in a press release, would be a refreshing and wise thing for him. Maybe picking a fight with Braves owner and America’s single largest landowner John Malone (via his chairmanship of Liberty Media) could be a sign that the commissioner isn’t quite as soulless as he has repeatedly led us to believe.