Legends On Deck

MLB’s Major Mistake

Major League Baseball has been front and center in the headlines the past week. Unfortunately, it’s not for the excitement of the return of an 162 game season.  Fans should be talking about the thrill of crowds returning to the ballpark after the short, crowdless 2020 season.  Instead,  we are talking about the MLB All-Star Game (and Draft) being pulled from Atlanta for political reasons.  Commissioner Manfred made a decision relocate the Mid-Summer Classic over a voting reform bill recently signed by Governor Brian Kemp.

Manfred’s decision came after mounting pressure from activist groups, corporate sponsors and even the White House.  The opponents of the legislation claim that new law would greatly restrict voting rights and disproportionately disadvantage minorities.  The President himself has claimed the law is a return to “Jim Crow” laws, that allowed for legal discrimination.  Governor Kemp strongly refutes this claim, even making the argument that the bill expands access to voting, in many ways.  The major objection, it seems, is that the bill requires photo identification.  In any case, this article is not about how Georgians vote, but about how baseball is being impacted by this decision.

Politics, Business and Sports

Rob Manfred has made a serious mistake taking MLB down the path of the NBA and NFL.  In the case of the NBA and NFL, the call for political activism came from pressure from the players themselves.  While I would have preferred that both leagues have kept political activism at bay, the pressure for activism came from within.  In the case of MLB’s decision, the opposite is true.  Baseball does not have a LeBron James taking to Twitter or a Colin Kaepernick, taking a knee.  Not at all.

Major League Baseball’s decision to get involved in politics came directly from the top.  It also sets a dangerous precedent for the future.  If the “powers that be” have decided that the Georgia voting law is unacceptable, what might future state legislation bring about?  What happens if a state like Texas, Arizona or Ohio pass similar legislation?  Boycott them too?  Similarly, how does this principle apply to other issues?  If a state passes any law that MLB executives disagree with, what are the consequences?  This has opened the door to many questions regarding the role politics plays in the future of baseball.

Backlash

Many MLB fans have reacted quickly to the Commissioners decision by boycotting the season entirely.  Many have ended their subscriptions to MLB.TV and Direct TV Extra Innings.  There’s no doubt that the Atlanta decision will have a negative impact on viewership in 2021.  Beyond that, there is plenty of hypocrisy on display here by the Commissioner himself.  As it turns out, Rob Manfred is a member at Augusta National Golf Course, home of The Masters.

If Georgia’s voting law is so egregious that it warrants MLB removing the All-Star Game, then why would Manfred continue to support Augusta National (and consequently, The Masters Tournament) with his membership dues?   Senator Marco Rubio public asked this question and it seems as if we are still awaiting Manfred’s response.  The outrage over the Georgia law also seemed premature, as it turns out that the new Georgia law has fewer restrictions than a state like New York (home of MLB). No word from Manfred on either item.

Mixed Reactions

Does being upset with MLB’s corporate decision mean that fans (who oppose it) should boycott watching their favorite teams play this season?  Governor Kemp doesn’t seem to think so.  In a recent interview with Clay Travis on Outkick the Coverage, Kemp advises fans to support the Braves with ticket sales and viewership this season. 

The Braves franchise expressed their disapproval of MLB’s decision.  As they know, the local economy will be negatively impacted by the boycott.  Cobb County, Georgia, the suburban home of the Braves, was expecting to see a $100 million in economic revenue due to the MLB All-Star Game and Draft.  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has taken a different approach, deciding to skip throwing out the first pitch at the sold out Texas Rangers Opening Day.  Abbott’s decision was based on MLB’s decision related to the Georgia voting law.  Texas Ranger fans did not get the memo on the MLB boycott, however, as they were the only franchise to allow full capacity on Opening Day.  They opened a new ballpark, Globe Life Field,  in 2020.

Making Sense of It All

Baseball fans will have to make their own decision on whether or not to tune in this season.  However, it seems clear that MLB’s decision to pull the ASG from Atlanta and relocating to Denver was senseless.   Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and countless other major corporations were also quick to condemn the Georgia law and had considerable influence over Manfred’s actions.   In this case, MLB made a calculated decision to prioritize corporate sponsors over dedicated fans and one of their most successful franchises (Atlanta Braves).  The bottom line is this:  will MLB gain fans over getting political and relocating the ASG?  Not a chance.  Will MLB lose fans over this?  Absolutely.

What Comes Next?

Now that MLB has set this direction, what comes next?  Will all future consideration for where to locate All-Star Games, Draft, even franchises themselves be based on the political priorities of their elected state government?  This would seemingly be a very hard act to follow.  Most of us follow baseball (and sports in general) to escape from the realities everyday life.  This also includes escaping the hyper-partisan political environment.
If this proves to be an unpopular decision and results in lost revenue for the league, what remedy will MLB seek to restore their fan base?  The only real solution would be to replace Manfred.  If you want politics at the forefront of your sports, the NBA and NFL have offered you plenty of it the past few seasons.  MLB made a major mistake in joining the crowd.  Their best hope is to remove Rob Manfred, find a Commissioner who will avoid driving a wedge into fan base with political issues and focus on growing the game.

Brian Koss
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