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Commentary: Rob Manfred stood by players, managers and owners by rightfully moving All-Star game

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during "A Celebration of Henry Louis Aaron."
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a memorial service for baseball legend Hank Aaron in January.
(Kevin D. Liles / Atlanta Braves via the Associated Press)

Rob Manfred could have played it safe.

He could have appointed a blue-ribbon commission to study the matter. He could have waited a few weeks to see if the political storm died down. He could have issued a strongly worded statement and moved on. He could have done nothing, hiding behind the notion that he would be no more qualified to denounce a state law than a president would be to criticize a pitching change.

On Friday, the commissioner of baseball instead made the bold, decisive and proper choice: Just eight days after Georgia enacted a law that makes it harder to vote, Manfred yanked the 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said in announcing his decision.

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Those words are guaranteed to generate an avalanche of criticism, a reflection of the unfortunate evolution of media in this country: Get your news from whomever tells you what you want to hear.

Julio Urías pitches seven dominant innings and Corey Knebel gets the save in a 4-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. Here’s a recap of the four-game series.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dropped all the (far) right emotional triggers in his response to Manfred’s decision: “liberal lies,” “cancel culture,” and “woke political activists.” If he had dropped “socialist” too, someone could have had bingo.

The primary talking point: “What is so wrong with having to show ID to vote?” Nothing, of course, but read the 98-page law. When a team of New York Times reporters did, their analysis revealed “a breathtaking assertion of partisan power in elections … identifying 16 provisions that hamper the right to vote for some Georgians or strip power from state and local elections officials and give it to legislators.”

The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, one of two Black managers in the major leagues, earned the honor of managing the National League team in this year’s All-Star game. He had said he would consider skipping the game if the league did not move it.

“I’m not completely versed on everything, but my takeaway from the bill was essentially to suppress voting for people of color,” Roberts said Friday. “And that’s something I fundamentally and intrinsically disagree with.”

Voting rights advocates said the Georgia law would disproportionately impact the Black community and other minority communities.

“In a world now where people want and need to be heard — in this particular case, people of color — for MLB to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, I think it just sets a tone from MLB to the players that we have to be in this together,” Roberts said. “It’s a great game, but for it to continue to flourish we have to be in it together, and this is a huge step toward that.”

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts celebrates after winning the National League Championship Series title.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agrees with MLB’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

As co-owner of the Dodgers, Magic Johnson is one of Roberts’ bosses, and one of Manfred’s bosses too.

“I want to applaud and extend a thank you to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred,” Johnson tweeted.

As the newest owner in MLB, as part of the Boston Red Sox ownership group, LeBron James is one of Manfred’s bosses.

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“Proud to call myself a part of the MLB family today,” James tweeted.

As an owner of the Miami Marlins, Derek Jeter is one of Manfred’s bosses.

“We should promote increasing voter turnout,” Jeter tweeted, “as opposed to any measures that adversely impact the ability to cast a ballot.”

Forty years ago, Fernando Valenzuela transformed the Dodgers’ fan base into one that reflected the city of Los Angeles. On Friday, MLB said 28% of the players on opening-day rosters this season were born outside the 50 states, in more than a dozen countries — from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, from Japan and South Korea, from Brazil and Germany and Australia and Curacao.

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MLB moves its All-Star game out of Atlanta eight days after Georgia passed a law that voting rights advocates say makes it harder for people to vote.

The future of MLB is in the Dodgers’ fan base, and in planting the sport’s flag in so many lands abroad. The future of MLB is not in the office of the governor of Georgia, where Kemp signed the voter suppression bill into law — in a room with six aging white men, gathered behind closed doors, beneath a painting of a plantation.

The Atlanta Braves embarrassed themselves on Friday, in an angry statement that made sure everyone knew the Braves did not support or propose moving the game from their ballpark.

“Businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision,” read the statement, which the team posted on Twitter.

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Hey, Braves: Work to get the law changed, and you’ll get the All-Star game back. That would represent action, as opposed to this disingenuous part of the Braves’ statement: “The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion.”

Now you say something.

On the day Kemp signed the law, and on the following day, the Braves used their Twitter account to announce the team’s opening-day starting pitcher, wish a happy birthday to their hitting coach, and declare: “The Big Bear is ready to head north for the summer.” (Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta’s left fielder, is The Big Bear.)

Corporations, especially Georgia-based businesses like Delta and Coca-Cola, respond by ramping up criticism of new voting restrictions in the state.

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Not a word about “the importance of equal voting opportunities.”

Manfred did not need the All-Star game to be used as “a platform to enhance the discussion” about voter suppression, or to have every player at the game asked about it, or to worry about Dodgers star Mookie Betts or other players boycotting the game because of it.

Manfred had that discussion over the past week with owners, current and former players, team officials, corporate sponsors, and leaders from the players’ union. He spoke with Roberts too. But the decision was his, and his alone. The union, which has no say in approving the location of the All-Star game, was not aware he had made a final decision until the public announcement.

At a time when corporations and the entertainment industry are struggling to find the courage to issue a statement, Manfred had a clear and strong action available to him. He had the power to make MLB a leader in a critical national conversation.

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What you really want a leader to do, after all, is lead. On Friday, Manfred did.


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