Major League Baseball has moved the annual All-Star Game to Denver after removing the Mid-Summer Classic this year from Atlanta because of changes to voter registration laws passed by the Georgia state legislature.
The move was accomplished after “thoughtful conversations” with various groups of players, commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday in a statement. But according to the current Basic Agreement, the contract that governs labor issues between the owners and union gives MLB unilateral rights to set the site of the All Star Game or move it within a reasonable period of time before the game is played.
That’s why last week, though there were cursory discussions between labor leaders on both sides, MLB made its decision to vacate Atlanta even before the MLB Players Association had completed polling of its more than 1,200 players about the issue.
By rule, MLB didn’t have to wait, although it might have been prudent for the owners to receive the cover of player approval, particularly with expected contentious negotiations on a new Basic Agreement set to begin.
The current five-year deal expires Dec. 1, and if negotiations are not concluded by then the union anticipates being locked out by the owners for the 2022 season.
In reality, as far as the All-Star Game is concerned, pressure came from outside sources, such as sponsors and civil right groups, to move the game, which is scheduled for July 13. In the end, it was a decision made by Manfred.
“As we know, politics intersects with sports,” New York Mets owner Steve Cohen said Monday during a conference call with the media. “These are always hard decisions. I know the commissioner made a well-considered decision, and I respect that.”
The game wound up in the blue state of Colorado at Coors Field, where it was last played for the only time in 1998, because of multiple reasons: Politics, ballpark capacity and a low level of coronavirus cases.
Manfred had to weigh the perception of moving the game to red states, like Texas and Arizona, where new more voter law overhauls are being considered by Republican legislatures even as capacity restrictions at large events have been lifted by Republican governors.
In Arlington on Monday, the Texas Rangers opened their home season with a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of a capacity crowd of 38,238 at Globe Life Field, where last year each game of the National League Championship Series and the World Series were attended by about 11,500.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott declined an invitation to throw out the first pitch before the game in response to MLB’s move to pull out of Georgia. The Rangers lost to the Blue Jays, 6-2. Daily COVID cases in Texas, meanwhile, have risen 6% to average 4,683– good for fourth-most in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
At 48,519-seat Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks are opening at home on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds, with 22,000 tickets available. The D-backs said they will play at 45% capacity until further notice to maintain adequate social distancing, but under the state protocols issued recently by Republican Governor Doug Ducey, they can play at 100%, though sell-outs are a rarity, save for the opener, special events or particular matchups.
Chase Field’s capacity might be attractive to MLB, and new COVID cases in Arizona were at 608, 24th in the nation Monday, but new laws in the state legislature considering a limit to mail-in voting and other restrictions are problematic politically for the league.
Colorado already has a voter ID law in place, but it’s not in the process of enacting any new changes. At 50,398-seat Coors Field, the Rockies opened the season this past Thursday by defeating the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers with 20,570 fans in the stands, about 40%.
Colorado’s rate of COVID cases is slightly on the rise, but was at 867 Monday, 19th in the nation. That augurs well for July when capacity could increase at Coors.
Unlike Georgia, Colorado checked every box. Players participating in the All-Star Game and events will travel to Denver this summer, even though they had no real say in it.
(This story has been updated in the second paragraph to include Rob Manfred’s previous statement on conversations with players.)