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Move MLB’s All-Star Game to Baltimore | COMMENTARY

Cardboard cutouts of fans in the otherwise empty seats face the field during the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays in Atlanta, in this Thursday, July 30, 2020, file photo. Georgia’s new voting law which critics claim severely limits access to the ballot box, especially for people of color has prompted calls from as high as the White House to consider moving the midsummer classic out of Atlanta. The game is set for July 13 at Truist Park, the Braves’ 41,000-seat stadium in suburban Cobb County. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)
Cardboard cutouts of fans in the otherwise empty seats face the field during the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays in Atlanta, in this Thursday, July 30, 2020, file photo. Georgia’s new voting law which critics claim severely limits access to the ballot box, especially for people of color has prompted calls from as high as the White House to consider moving the midsummer classic out of Atlanta. The game is set for July 13 at Truist Park, the Braves’ 41,000-seat stadium in suburban Cobb County. (AP Photo/John Amis, File) (John Amis/AP)

Baltimore in mid-July can be a charming place. Daily high temperatures hover around the upper-80s. The humidity can be a bit on the elevated side, but there’s often a breeze, particularly near the waterfront. And Oriole Park at Camden Yards remains as captivating as it was when it opened to fans exactly 29 years ago as of April 6, the first of baseball’s “retro” parks, a revelation for the sport. Wouldn’t it be great to have a nationally televised game there on July 13? Perhaps invite the best players in all of Major League Baseball? Call it the “Midsummer Classic?” As it happens, an opportunity presents itself.

For those who follow baseball but not politics or vice versa, you may not have heard, but the two have intersected and left professional baseball with a major moral dilemma. On Friday, MLB announced that it will hold neither its draft nor the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Georgia because of that state’s new restrictions on voting rights that are shockingly similar to those of the Jim Crow era. No doubt they noticed the concerns not just of fans and players but of that state’s biggest employers, who have come to realize something really bad has happened there. Take, for example, the CEOs of both Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines who have called the law “unacceptable” and “a step backward” while they are attempting to put out their own public relations fires for having made political donations to some of the instigators of this legislative abomination signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25.

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MLB has never been the most overtly political of this nation’s professional sports institutions, whether in the front office or the dugout, yet even the most hidebound owner had to recognize that holding such a high-profile event as the All-Star game in Atlanta this summer was problematic. People of color now represent about 42.5% of the player roster. What sort of message would it have sent if the most talented of them, the cream of the crop, blithely traveled down to Georgia to bring a patina of joy and business-as-usual to a state that has just decided to suppress voting in a way that is likely to adversely impact minorities? “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” the league’s Friday statement boldly proclaims. Clearly, someone belatedly recognized that it would have been calamitous for a sport still grappling with its own racist past from Jackie Robinson on down. Hank Aaron received death threats for daring to break Babe Ruth’s home run record 47 years ago, and his legacy was going to be celebrated at an all-star game held in a state that seeks to discourage Black Americans from voting? Good call, commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr.

Maybe the choice to leave Atlanta was a chance to demonstrate MLB’s “values” after much internal discussion as Mr. Manfred now claims. Or perhaps it was influenced by the comments made recently by President Joe Biden who said he would “strongly support” moving the game. Whatever the case, there’s still the matter of where to play if not in Atlanta. Let’s see. It should be a city with an MLB team, a great venue to hold the game, and it ought to be a place where voting rights are supported (perhaps as home to the NAACP for the last 35 years, for example). By all those measures, Baltimore would make a lot of sense. First, because Camden Yards has hosted the game before — in 1993, to be exact. But more importantly, because Baltimore and Maryland have proved themselves a voter-friendly venue and one where basic civil rights are increasingly valued, too.

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Six years ago, Baltimore was torn apart by unrest following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. The Baltimore Orioles even held a game without fans in the stands, which seemed extraordinary at the time but turned out to be a good trial run for the 2020 season with its COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. Since then, some headway has been made in addressing some of those concerns. It is, of course, a work in progress. The city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods remain poor. The homicide rate is outrageously high. But recent efforts at police reform and accountability have offered hope. While other U.S. cities saw violent protests after the death of George Floyd last spring, the outcry in Baltimore was orderly and reasonable. There is a sense that change is afoot. It would be nice to see outsiders recognize that prospect, not to mention reward Maryland’s bipartisan support for free and fair elections.

Let’s face it. Baltimore could use the business, too. The bad press just seems to keep rolling in, most recently with problems at the Emergent BioSolutions plant that messed up millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, even though the city had nothing to do with it other than being home to the company. How much better to see headlines about the All-Star Game’s return to Camden Yards, about how a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature still believe in voting rights and do not traffic in bizarre and disproven conspiracy theories about massive voter fraud. Baseball is the national pastime. Let’s associate good government and the right to cast a ballot (including the right to offer water to someone waiting in line to vote, for heaven’s sake) with that beloved sport, too.

How about it, Mr. Manfred?

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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