Given the choice of trusting Major League Baseball or a roomful of history’s most infamous fabulists — Lance Armstrong, Bernie Madoff, Robert Ripley, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Pinocchio — I’d side with the room. In that vein, don’t make the mistake of thinking the privileged white lords who control the sport suddenly have grown a pair of activism testicles.
They want you to applaud their newfound social conscience in moving this year’s All-Star Game out of suburban Atlanta, protesting the Georgia law that appears to give Blacks diminished opportunities to vote. In truth, their motives aren’t about social justice as much as the story of the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a dam to prevent a region from flooding.
With too many existential gushers to count, the last problem commissioner Rob Manfred needed was the threat of players boycotting his July showcase and again framing MLB as a racist operation. It’s hardly an unfair accusation against the hierarchy, which allowed the Cleveland Indians and (ahem) Atlanta Braves to keep insensitive nicknames, logos and rituals much too long and waited forever last summer before addressing the murder of George Floyd. Imagine the scorched-earth commentary, here and elsewhere, if elite players snubbed the All-Star Game only months before the industry’s interminable labor problems led to a work stoppage, this as baseball struggles to remain relevant in 21st-century Americana.
So Manfred played a public-relations card, thinking he’s flipping the sport’s approval arrow upward by suddenly going woke. “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” he said. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. … Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
An MLB escape hatch, this is not. Rather, it’s another con game. It took Manfred only two days to heed pressure from President Biden to yank the game out of Georgia when, in the larger view of his wobbling sport, he has wasted SIX YEARS in failing to figure out the labor crisis, pace-of-play issues that are killing the game, a continuing TV ratings demise and a sense that the long, lost national pastime is growing old with its audience. Now, he risks incurring the ire of Republicans who form a sizable percentage of baseball’s traditional fan base — while also looking like quite the political hypocrite. Know what MLB was doing the day Biden supported the All-Star extraction?
Oh, cutting a new streaming rights deal with Tencent, a large and influential Chinese tech company — the same company that rebuked NBA executive Daryl Morey for his pro-Hong Kong tweet and punished commissioner Adam Silver by dropping game telecasts. All told, the NBA lost more than $200 million in China revenue last year. But MLB, which doesn’t like Georgia voting procedures, has no issue with China’s human rights violations in continuing a relationship with Tencent, which will stream MLB games in Asian countries through 2023 along with its ongoing package of 125 games per season in China.
Manfred wants his wokeness and his Communism on the same dinner plate. He wants to be on the right side of the politics, supporting Delta and Coca-Cola in the anti-Georgia crusade, while accepting deplorable policies overseas. The politicians — and enlightened members of the public, regardless of wing affiliation — aren’t buying his money-and-influence grab. “@MLB caves to pressure & moves draft & /#AllStarGame out of Georgia on the same week they announce a deal with a company backed by the genocidal Communist Party of #China,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes, regulations & anti-trust?”
What happens if the Braves, a serious National League pennant contender, make the World Series? Will Manfred move their home games elsewhere? And has the commissioner noticed New York offers fewer options for early voting than Georgia? Imagine a Braves-Yankees Fall Classic played at a neutral site because MLB is immersed in the political and financial game?
For the sake of his enterprise, Manfred should be focused on his current plight — how COVID-19, which has wiped out the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks via a Brazilian variant, continues to sideline the Washington Nationals. Hellbent on reopening revenue streams by allowing fans inside ballparks, MLB wants to believe the pandemic is over. But the Nationals have yet to play a game, with four players isolating after positive tests and seven others still in quarantine. “Position players haven’t worked out in a week. And pitchers haven’t thrown any competitive pitch in that same period of time,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “It’s something that we’re taking very seriously here. We’re thinking of creative ways under the protocol and under the guidance to get these guys as ready as possible.”
A fine way to start the season, wouldn’t you say? Since winning the World Series in October 2019, the Nationals still haven’t been able to celebrate their championship in front of home fans. Instead of assuming COVID-19 has been conquered, Manfred should consider the Canucks as a cautionary warning that COVID-19 variants remain undefeated in the sports world. Is Manfred ready?
How could he be, focused as he is on Georgia politics and China TV deals? And when the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, on the season’s first weekend, engage in a bench-clearing, pushing-and-shoving scrap that clearly violated MLB’s coronavirus protocols. “Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited.” the protocols read. “Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action. Violations of these rules will result in severe discipline.”
Don’t count on it. The players know the commissioner is a flim-flam man, oblivious that one virus breakout could lead to several more.
Baseball is a continuing drag on American culture. At least our fictional Dutch boy managed to save his country in folklore. Rob Manfred isn’t helping anyone but the Chinese.