New York Times sports reporter James Wagner offered Major League Baseball a public relations grand slam over its controversial decision to move its All-Star game out of Georgia — punishing workers in its state for passing a benign election reform law that nonetheless had Democrats from the president on down shrieking lies about a return to Jim Crow.
In Wednesday’s “A Conservative Sport Receives Applause for Taking a Stand,” Wagner opened with former baseball pitcher Steve Blass, preening about his personal racial growth:
“I am,” Blass said in a phone interview on Monday, “a probably conservative, white, former baseball player that learned things that have become important to me by being in the presence of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and a lot of those guys, and watching and admiring Henry Aaron, who embodied, I think, everything good in the game.”
Case in point: After the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Blass watched his Black teammates, including Maury Wills, Stargell and Clemente, address the team and, in the absence of an M.L.B.-wide postponement, lead the Pirates in unanimously deciding to sit out an exhibition game and the first two regular-season games. It led other teams to take a similar stance, which resulted in a delay to the start of the M.L.B. season by a few days.
The paper might have held off before conflating MLB’s latest move with the reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination.
So when M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Friday that he had pulled the 2021 All-Star Game from suburban Atlanta because of a new Georgia voting law that Democrats and civil rights groups predicted would disproportionately suppress turnout among people of color, Blass applauded the action from his home in Florida.
Wagner offered nothing but praise, albeit of the backhanded variety, as he chewed over what took conservative baseball so long to get with the social justice program.
M.L.B.’s move was a watershed moment for a sport long known for its traditionalism and slow-moving nature. Until 1947, baseball barred Black players from its teams. More recently, Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, balked at calls, several from Latinos, to move the 2011 All-Star Game from Phoenix over a contentious immigration law in Arizona that was opposed by the players’ union. And last year, M.L.B. waited nine days before addressing George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, making it the last of the four major professional sports leagues in North America to do so.
There were many factors that made M.L.B.’s measure unique. Not unlike their counterparts in professional basketball or football, M.L.B. club owners are largely Republican donors. The sport’s fan base is older and less diverse than the N.FL. and the N.B.A. And a majority of major league players are white, many of whom trend conservative in their personal politics. (Roughly 30 percent of M.L.B. players are Latino, most from outside the United States, and only 8 percent are Black.)
The mind of another deceased black player was dutifully read. Turns out Hank Aaron would be on board with the boycott as well:
If baseball legend Hank Aaron were still around, Houston Astros Manager Dusty Baker and Jackson both said, he would have had something powerful to say about the debate surrounding the All-Star Game. Aaron, who experienced racism throughout his career, died in January. During the week of the All-Star Game in Atlanta, M.L.B. and the Braves had planned to honor the legacy of the Hall of Famer, a former Braves player and executive.
Wagner set up this story with a proud proclamation on Sunday’s front page, “Tide of Social Activism Rises in Sports Leagues.”
That would be left-wing “social activism,” of course. Conservative politics in athletics remain offensive to the Times, as do overt signs of patriotism and focus on “American exceptionalism” during Olympic competition.