December 3, 2023

The White Man’s Game

April 5, 2021 by · 1 Comment 

On any given evening in the summer, one can travel to the ballpark to see the game of baseball played by a unique diversity of talent. Whether the game is in a Major League park or a minor league one, the players out on the field might claim Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean nations, as their place or origin. Every human hue is on display and no one even notices. It is a beautiful thing to behold.

And yet in the stands, where the fans sit to watch, holding a bag of peanuts or a hot dog, they are all too often white men. The fan base includes women and people of color, some of whom were also born in those same countries. But they are dots on a white map. Which is why Baseball Commisioner, Rob Manfred, did a good thing when he moved the All-Star Game and the Major League Amateur Draft from Atlanta, Georgia to a site yet to be determined. Baseball as an institution needs to align itself on the side of the angels–not the Anaheim ones, but the ones that blow golden trumpets.

At this most recent controversy is a voting rights bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican Georgia Legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor. It contains many provisions, and its adherents falsely claim it is about expanding access to the polls and assuring the integrity of the process. A fine article in the Washington Post examined in detail all of its many facets and it is difficult to assert that it is intended to do anything except curtail voting by Georgia’s large African American population, who showed up in record numbers last November and January to the chagrin of those same Republicans.

Many in Atlanta have cried foul. I hear them. I lived in that city from 1979-1986 and I attended ballgames at old Fulton County Stadium that was just a short walk from my office at City Hall. And yet those same Republicans who passed that bill were happy to move baseball from Atlanta’s Central Business District to its distant and much more white suburban environs in Cobb County–a bastion of white conservatism in the state when I lived there. Then there was the sad passing of Hank Aaron this past year, which brought to mind Hank’s long battle with southern racists, beginning with his minor league career in Jacksonville, Florida and ending with those who savagely decried him besting Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Georgia has ample history to live down and why they cannot just get on with it baffles the hell out of me.

Georgia has a long way to travel on the road to redemption. For every step forward Ellis Arnall made, Herman Talmadge took two backwards. And the new voting rights law is in that very fine tradition. It sets Georgia’s long history back in the old briar patch, and so it is wonderful to see Major League Baseball send a powerful message that they do not have as many friends as was once the case.

The collective ownership of Major League Baseball is hardly a collection of altruists and Mother Theresa’s. They hired Rob Manfred because he was, and is, a management lawyer, one who fiercely opposes the rights of workers to unionize. But the game needs more diverse ownership and even the current collection of skin flints was heartened when Lebron James joined former NFL quarterback Pat Mahomes as partial owners of a professional baseball team–the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals, respectively. Brandon Bellamy owns the Gastonia, NC minor league franchise and is the only black man to own a baseball team outright.

Hiroshi Yamauchi caused quite the tempest when the Nintendo billionaire bought the Seattle Mariners in 1992. Baseball fought zealously to prevent that purchase for all the wrong reasons. Which is why this latest move by Rob Manfred signals a very huge sea change for the game of baseball. Thinking back to the long history of Kennesaw Mountain Landis and the deep racism that marred the game for so very long, it is interesting to examine what has tipped the scales.

When the Black Lives Matter movement arose in anger against police brutality last summer, sports games were cancelled and players from every sport–including Baseball–lent their voices to those in the streets. The Major League Baseball Players Association’s (MLBPA) is headed by Tony Clark, an African American who played a large role in orchestrating the player’s voice in favor of BLM. That stance made it difficult for ownership to position itself against that movement, especially in light of recent events that have further polarized the country, putting white supremacists on one side of the chalk line and everyone else on the other. Even Jerry Reinsdorf did not want to suit up to play with the Proud Boys.

The practical impact of MLB, Inc.’s decision is not insubstantial. The pressure they are putting on the State of Georgia is immense. There is no larger boycott emerging yet, but one is likely to grow in the ground baseball has plowed. Perhaps more important is the message MLB, Inc. sends to other states considering similar legal restrictions on voting. Many will be undeterred and the old Confederacy will rear its insurrectionist head  once again. But baseball has joined forces against all of that and one has to be proud of them.

It will be good to go to games this season knowing our game has put its hat in the ring with the good guys. Will Asian Americans and other people of color flock to the ball parks? Who knows. But at least Rob Manfred gave them one less reason to stay home.

Hope to see you at a ball park soon!! This season is going to be a good one!!


One Response to “The White Man’s Game”
  1. mike haire says:

    thanks for this commentary. it was truly appreciated.

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