When baseball first created the office of commissioner, it was because the sport needed to restore integrity and trust. They placed one man, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, at the top of the game and had him rule with the interest of owners, players, and fans in mind.
It is not a democratic concept, but it served the game well for a while. Landis was far from perfect, but he made people trust the game again. Major League Baseball’s latest foray into partisan politics in Georgia diminishes that trust.
As in so many other areas of American life, leftist politics are crowding out everything else. Commissioners became the players’ enemy after the labor strife of the 1970s. The minor leagues soon became an afterthought, too.
Now, in acceding to the demands of woke capital, Commissioner Rob Manfred throws the fans overboard. Pulling the All-Star Game from Georgia in response to the recent voting law changes there shows that Manfred listens only to the powerful while thrusting baseball into the latest partisan fight and forcing fans to take sides.
Most baseball fans just want to watch baseball. The game is a break from real life. We must fight about politics at other times, because that is how free people govern themselves. It is the price of freedom and self-governance. If we did not have political debate, we would be a dictatorship.
But most people — even those who do politics for a living — do not want to do it all day, every day. Sports is not immune from cultural politics: debates about integration in the 1940s were undoubtedly political. But political debates came up only insofar as they affected the game.
Manfred and the owners have now made even enjoying a baseball game is an act of political speech, jumping into an arcane election law fight that does not affect the sport or its players. Nothing in Georgia’s law changes what happens on the diamond. Major League Baseball could have easily left politics to its own arena and concentrated on making the national pastime better.
“The personal is political,” 1960s radicals said, but even they never dreamed it would go this far. Nor did they likely imagine that the executives and owners of massive multinational corporations would parrot their countercultural views — and then some.
As politics becomes increasingly class-based, the views of people rich enough to own baseball teams begin to align. All of the fashionable people were mad about Georgia, so Manfred and the boardroom boys had to be mad too.
It doesn’t matter to them that the criticisms of the law were mostly inaccurate. It doesn’t matter that most of the changes are similar to laws in place in other states. Why would it?
Major League Baseball’s statement on the All-Star Game doesn’t mention a single point of the law that the owners and commissioner oppose. Why should it? This Georgia boycott is not a legal argument — it’s a mood. It is not about right and wrong, it is about looking good to the people they care about.
Which people are they? The ones who pay for ads. As Margot Cleveland noted in her article on Monday, the players didn’t ask for this. They didn’t even have a chance to discuss it,let alone vote on it. The pressure was from one set of corporate executives to another. That is how the location of a multi-million-dollar celebration of baseball’s top talent gets decided.
Why even have a commissioner? In truth, Manfred is nothing but an amanuensis to richer men. Any pretense of him speaking for all of baseball was dispelled a long time ago.
None of this was forced on Manfred or the owners: MLB chose to divide people. Watching a ballgame after work or on a Sunday afternoon can unite us. Fans are not united on political issues, but two fans of the same team can set those differences aside and enjoy a sport they both love.
The Georgia issue divides fans, divides players, and may even divide owners. The only group uniformly satisfied by Manfred’s action is the group of executives who sponsor games with their ads. That is to say, there is only one group Manfred has inadvertently united in favor of the Georgia boycott: Georgians.
Seeing their state and its people punished by rich monopolists has made some unusual alliances. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has defended the law and his state vigorously, which is not surprising. Yet now even Stacey Abrams — Kemp’s 2018 Democratic opponent and a prominent advocate against the voting reform — is criticizing MLB’s decision.
Yes, Abrams spreads erroneous information, such as pretending the law is the “new Jim Crow” and imagining that MLB players had any voice in this decision, but she is correct on the most important point: Manfred’s decree will not hurt anyone except the working people who would have earned money from the All-Star extravaganza. “I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star game,” she writes, adding “I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs.”
Abrams may be disappointed, but she should not be surprised. Like the NBA, Major League Baseball is happy to do business with genuinely tyrannical governments, just not with states that are unpopular on Twitter.
Democrats and Republicans in Georgia disagree with an MLB boycott, but their voices are not heard over the social media maelstrom. With this, as with every other lefty boycott threat, corporations choose to believe the loudest voices, not the most numerous. If Abrams and others on the left choose to proclaim that Georgia is returning to the dark days of segregation, they should not be shocked that corporations choose not to do business there.
Baseball fans should not be surprised either, but we should be disappointed. We used to call baseball the “national pastime,” a word that has become synonymous with the sport. It means “something that amuses and serves to make time pass agreeably,” according to Merriam-Webster, and has been used in that sense for longer than baseball has existed. Baseball still amuses, but it becomes harder for the average fan to pass the time agreeably when the sport’s governing body insists on taking sides in irrelevant wedge issues.
Republicans in Congress have reacted to Manfred’s politicking by threatening MLB’s antitrust exception. They are right to do so. The commissioner sits at the head of the professional baseball monopoly but the office, like a government office, is a public trust. He runs baseball, but baseball is not his alone. His power trip is an attack on the average fan who just wants to be left alone.
Corporate political boycotts seem natural to the lefty activists who spur them on, but they leave ordinary folks in a quandary. Most people do not want every facet of their lives to be political, but when every corporation we deal with shoves politics in our faces, we have little choice.
Yet what is the average baseball fan to do? Boycott the sport? That would only be punishing ourselves. What about boycotting the advertisers? Difficult, when we do not even know which ones called for the change. Contact the commissioner’s office and yell at him? That, at least, is possible, but one wonders what good it will achieve.
There is no decent option for non-political fans, and that’s the problem when once-non-political corporations shove their partisanship in your face. It’s an even bigger problem in a field of business in which there is no competition to which we might transfer our allegiance.
The game of baseball has a privileged position of trust in society, but that comes with a price. Major League Baseball owes it to the fans to put on good, honest games — and then leave us alone.