By Ronald Blum, The Associated Press
Debates about right and left at the All-Star Game used to deal with pitchers or perhaps batting orders.
This year it extends to the political divide in the United States.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred shifted Tuesday’s game to Denver’s Coors Field from Atlanta’s Truist Park because of a Georgia voting law that critics say will negatively affect communities of color. His decision generally was denounced by conservatives and praised by liberals.
“Commissioner Rob Manfred moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta, parroting dishonest, partisan talking points,” said a commercial by the Consumers’ Research, a conservative group. “Why is he making baseball political anyway? Because of his terrible record. Viewership way down. Ticket prices way up.”
Manfred said he made the decision after discussions with teams, former and current players, the Major League Baseball Players Association and The Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” he said in announcing his decision in early April.
“In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the nonpartisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” he said.
The Players Alliance quickly backed his decision.
“We want to make our voice heard loud and clear in our opposition of the recent Georgia legislation that not only disproportionally disenfranchises the Black community, but also paves the way for other states to pass similarly harmful laws based largely on widespread falsehoods and disinformation,” it said in a statement.
MLB originally awarded the game to what was then called SunTrust Park on May 29, 2019. It was to be the third All-Star Game in Atlanta following 1972 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and 2000 at Turner Field, the former 1996 Olympic Stadium that was the Braves’ home from 1997-2016.
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the new election law March 25, and Manfred announced April 2 that the game would be moved, then four days later relocated it to Denver along with Sunday’s Futures Game and amateur draft, and Monday’s Home Run Derby.
Manfred’s decision was supported by President Joe Biden and criticized by former President Donald Trump, whose claims of massive voter fraud were rejected by many courts. Trump urged his supporters to boycott baseball.
Now that the game will be in the mile-high air of Coors, expect offensive fireworks.
When the All-Star Game was last played there in 1998, Alex Rodriguez and Roberto Alomar homered for the American League in a 13-8 win, and Barry Bonds connected for the National League. The AL tied the record for runs and hits (19), and the two teams set an All-Star record for combined runs and tied the record for hits with 31.
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels figures to be the focus this time, the first player picked as an All-Star for both his pitching and his hitting.
Jacob deGrom of the Mets, baseball’s best pitcher, is skipping the game to rest for the second half of the season following an injury slowed first three months.
Last year’s All-Star Game was to have been at Dodger Stadium but was canceled because the coronavirus pandemic caused MLB to delay opening day until July 23. The Dodgers will host next year’s game, instead.
The Futures Game of top prospects starts the activities on Sunday, and Ohtani will be the first Japanese-born player in the Home Run Derby, when the Mets’ Pete Alonso defends his 2019 title on Monday night.
Ohtani played two games at Coors in 2018 and went 1 for 2 with a single.
“Everyone told me that the ball flies there,'” he said though a translator, “and I felt that when I was taking BP, so it was a lot of fun.”