Today MLB announced that they would be moving the All-Star Game, and the MLB Draft, out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new voting bill recently signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp. The bill is widely decried as deliberately restricting access to the ballot box in a way that especially affects voters of color and from lower socio-economic circumstances.
The entire announcement from MLB about moving the all-star game out of ATL pic.twitter.com/qVmV3KrDCz— Chris Rose (@ChrisRose) April 2, 2021
Georgia’s new voting law, known as SB 202, dramatically cuts down on the amount of time voters have to request a mail-in ballot, and moves up the deadline by which mail-in ballots have to be returned, while also mandating that counties mail out ballots weeks later than before. All of this adds up to a much tighter turnaround for mail-in voting that opponents to the bill say will restrict voting access for those who can’t get to the polls in person. The bill also caps the number of voting drop boxes per county to one per early voting site or one per 100K voters, whichever is smaller, and moves those boxes inside during business hours, which critics point out defeats the purpose of drop boxes as an option for people who work non-traditional business hours and restricts access overall. The new law also gives the legislature, which has been under Republican control since 2005, new oversight and powers in governing elections and suspending and replacing election officials deemed by a legislature-appointed committee to be “underperforming.” You can read a thorough explainer of the bill from Georgia Public Broadcasting here.
SB 202 has been met with widespread criticism from voting-rights advocates; President Joe Biden denounced it in his remarks the other day, and there has been outcry on social media against what is perceived as a systematic, partisan attack on voting access. Calls for MLB to move this year’s All-Star Game out of Georgia began shortly after the bill was passed on the 25th of March, and today the Commissioner’s office announced the game would indeed be moved, along with the MLB Draft, slated for the weekend before the ASG.
MLB intends to honor the great Hank Aaron, who passed away earlier this year, at this year’s ASG, and it would have felt right to honor the greatest Brave of all time in Atlanta, just steps away from where Aaron is buried at Atlanta’s Southview Cemetery. However, it’s equally important to honor Aaron’s legacy through recognizing the battle Aaron and people of his skin color had to fight in order to get to the polls in the first place; a battle that is still ongoing today. To that end, maybe there’s an argument MLB should have kept the ASG in Atlanta to shine a bright light on these issues and continue the national conversation. That’s certainly the tack Atlanta is taking in this statement:
The Braves statement regarding the moving of the MLB All-Star Game: pic.twitter.com/0Iapm3eIre— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 2, 2021
Which seems a little at odds with this other, more financial statement:
MLB has already announced LA will remain the site for the 2022 All-Star Game, meaning a surprise contender will appear for 2021. From the tone of the official communications, it sounds like an alternate site has been found and arrangements are being finalized. What’s the chance that site is Seattle?
There are some reasons, both on and off the field, that Seattle makes sense as a landing spot for the 2021 All-Star Game. T-Mobile Park could certainly play a fine host as a physical space; the ballpark has the fifth-highest capacity in MLB, and has routinely earned praise for both its food and beverage selection and its commitment to sustainability practices and waste reduction. The park is centrally located in downtown Seattle, with plenty of hotel capacity, and has a roof to guard against possible rainouts. The Mariners, with an eye to securing their own All-Star berth in the near future, have recently upgraded areas of the ballpark as well, with expanded executive seating that isn’t ideal for your average game-goer but would befit a prestige event like an All-Star Game.
If MLB is serious about sending a message about voting access, locating the All-Star Game in Washington State, one of the five states that allows full mail-in voting and the state with fifth-highest voter turnout in the nation in 2021, would be a good start. If MLB wants to send a message about racial equity, Seattle—the team with the highest percentage of Black players in 2020—also makes sense. The Mariners, who have made a commitment to several racial equity initiatives, would be given a chance to highlight their innovative Hometown Nine program, and hopefully inspire other clubs to do the same to continue growing the game in under-represented communities.
From a health and safety standpoint, Seattle makes sense as well. Not only is the ballpark big enough to accommodate fans with social distancing, but Washington ranks in the mid to upper-tier for vaccines administered, and will be moving to full vaccination eligibility for all people age 16 and over by April 15. Seattle had the lowest COVID death rate for all major metropolitan areas despite being an early outbreak site (although it cannot be emphasized enough, case numbers are going BACK UP! Be smart out there, wear your masks and keep social distancing, Seattle of all places should know about fumbling the bag on the one-yard line). After so much attention was focused on the region a year-plus ago with the first known COVID deaths in the country, it would be nice to come full circle and show how far our area has come thanks to people pitching in and following health and safety guidelines.
So will it happen? The Mariners front office is famously tight-lipped, but it does seem like some inkling would have leaked out by now, since the tone of MLB’s statements indicates a location has been selected but is just being finalized. An idea I saw floated on Twitter suggested Milwaukee, the historic Braves team that was the first Hank Aaron played for before the team moved to Atlanta. (So there would be an interesting symmetry in moving from Atlanta to Milwaukee this time, at least.) The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board wrote a stirring argument for moving the ASG there, and that’s probably my favorite of the field, especially as a mirror to the infamous fanless game that was played amidst civil unrest in Baltimore a few years ago. My guess is the ASG will remain on the East Coast, where MLB prefers to have premiere events located. Seattle would be a strong choice, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a while longer to get an ASG back here again. Hopefully we won’t have to wait this long.