Jackie Robinson trotted onto the diamond at Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, making history as the first black athlete to break Major League Baseball’s modern color line.
And on April 2 of this year, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the 2021 MLB All-Star Game was being moved from Atlanta, Georgia, and Truist Park as a result of a new Georgia law that restricts voting access in the state, particularly for minorities, and the event has been moved instead to Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.
Commissioner Manfred said that the decision was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and was made after consultation with team executives, former and current players, the MLB Players Association, and The Players Alliance.
The days of sports and politics staying on their own side of the street are over. The intersection of sports and societal values are now part of our daily lives from schoolyards to Superdomes, from boardrooms to ballfields, and in many more locales than just Atlanta and Denver.
In terms of selecting the perfect city to host the relocated game, there simply wasn’t one. Coors Field, for example, is named for Coors Brewing Company. The fight for diversity at the Adolph Coors Company was one of the most bitter labor-management struggles of the last 30 years. After 1,472 brewery workers went on strike at Coors Brewery in 1977, unions organised a consumer boycott that effectively helped stunt the company’s growth. This all happened a decade and a half before the Colorado Rockies franchise began play.
Did Major League Baseball and all of their constituencies take this into account before awarding the game to Denver?
Atlanta and Georgia state officials have said MLB’s decision to relocate the All-Star Game could cost the region up to $100m in lost tourism dollars. MLB will likely have to pay some significant amount of money in penalties for Atlanta-based reservations and plans that are now canceled.
The color of the fluid that runs through the engines of all sports is green. Thousands of Atlantans who were hoping for an All-Star Game income jolt while working the events now won’t have that to deposit.
When a country is in crisis, sports can represent security. You’re going to games with people who are going through the same emotions as you are.
You probably saw the video of the crowds at the Texas Rangers’ sold-out home debut. With a game attendance of 38,238 fans, the Rangers’ home opener was the largest crowd for a sporting event in the United States since the pandemic began.
Despite the now-increasing crowds in Texas and elsewhere, MLB and its 30 clubs are still losing millions every day with empty seats, unfilled parking spaces and more sparse concessions stands from coast to coast.
And the decision-making complexity for Manfred on behalf of players, owners, team staffs, stadium workers, and millions of fans simply has no natural global positioning system, particularly when tougher issues such as the All-Star Game site and voting access present themselves. And morals and money are a tough combination to get right every time.
I look at this decision by Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game as more like a facelift than a heart transplant. But it also shows that Jackie Robinson’s trip around the bases isn’t yet complete.