I just want to watch a ballgame.
Unfortunately, even baseball is a front on the cultural wars.
This year’s All-Star Game–the first since 2019–was scheduled to be played in the Atlanta Braves’ new stadium north of Atlanta. The stadium–Truist Park–opened in 2017 after the team completed its 20-year lease at Turner Field, close to downtown Atlanta and mass transport. Truist Park, originally SunTrust Park, is about 10 miles northwest of downtown.
In justifying the need for a stadium, the team said people stayed away because of the traffic and parking and that Turner Field “doesn’t match up with where the majority of our fans come from.” The team also said the stadium needed substantial funding for upkeep, as well as $200 million for upgrades to improve the fan experience.
Not everyone saw it that way. Some thought the team wanted to cater to white suburban fans, who didn’t want to attend a game in the predominantly black Summerhill neighborhood adjacent to Turner Field. At the time the move was being considered, Summerhill had a lower crime rate than some of the neighborhoods around the Braves new Cobb County home.
It’s no secret that the people in the Summerhill neighborhood aren’t likely to be Braves fans or baseball fans. While baseball has a diverse population of players, as of last opening day, less than 8% of players on Major League rosters were black. That’s less than half or what it was forty seasons ago (18.7%).
In addition, with 45% of black children living under the poverty line, it’s hard to justify the cost of equipment, let alone the increases cost of travel teams for the best players. While football’s more expensive to play than baseball, it’s appointment viewing seventeen–now eighteen weekends each fall. And basketball is culturally relevant, in part because all you need is a ball and a hoop to play.
Baseball has a demographics problem, one it’s trying hard to resolve. And the numbers, while low, are starting to increase.
The last thing it needed was a boycott of the All-Star Game–a marquee event in the dead spot between basketball and football–because of the recently passed election regulations in Georgia.
Because the Dodgers won the World Series last fall, manager Dave Roberts is set to manage the National League All-Star team. He said he would consider not managing the game. If he were to pass, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, one of the best players in the game, could reasonably be expected to follow suit. They might be the first dominos to fall, leaving baseball’s lack of popularity among blacks and low number of black players to be news fodder during the relative news doldrums of the summer.
The racial overtones of the team’s decision to move to the suburbs would’ve been frosting for the media’s inevitable feeding frenzy.
Moving the All-Star game was an inevitable business decisions for a sport that’s doing well, but looking at a potential work stoppage this winter, along with a fan base that’s aging and demographically shrinking (white dudes, like me).
While the All-Star Game isn’t the draw it used to be for me, if Major League Baseball hadn’t moved the game, I’d have watched baseball. Now that they have moved the game, I’ll watch baseball. It’s not a statement on racism, fascism, communism, voting rights, reasonable voting requirements, or anything else.
I like baseball.
I also don’t see an issue with requiring ID vote. But the Georgia law went well beyond that reasonable requirement.
And that’s not why the All-Star Game was moved anyway. It was a business decision made by a white man (Commissioner Rob Manfred) whose constituents (29 of 30 franchise owners) don’t want to lose money.
In a capitalist society, owners get to do things like that to maximize their investment. In almost any other situation, the people demanding a boycott over the move would be defending the owners’s rights to do as they please.