Major League Baseball makes important decisions with all the consistency of umpire Angel Hernandez calling balls and strikes, so playing World Series games in Atlanta months after stripping the city of the All-Star Game is just another swing and a miss.
The Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros play Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in Houston beginning Tuesday night. The action then moves to Atlanta on Friday. It’s completely appropriate to play there, but doing so contradicts the stand MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took when he moved the league’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.
It’s one more bad look for a sport far behind the NFL and NBA in fan interest at a time when college football is the object in MLB’s mirror that might be closer than it appears.
MLB moved the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta
Brian Kemp raced to social media shortly after the Atlanta Braves knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Georgia’s Republican governor referenced a political rival and baseball’s executive suite in noting a bit of karma.
“While Stacey Abrams and the MLB stole the All-Star Game from hardworking Georgians, the Braves earned their trip to the World Series this season and are bringing it home to Georgia,” Kemp wrote on Twitter.
The tweet earned Kemp rebukes from the other end of the political spectrum, but it brought two highly charged decisions back into the spotlight. On March 25, Kemp signed a bill into law adopting controversial changes for Georgia’s election laws. The changes include voter ID requirements and limiting the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots.
Eight days later, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the 2021 All-Star Game at Atlanta’s Truist Park in July would be moved out of Georgia in response to the new law.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game,” Manfred said. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
What’s the difference between the All-Star Game and the World Series?
MLB created its All-Star Game in 1933. The contest between the National League and American League is dubbed the Midsummer Classic. The World Series has earned the label of the Fall Classic. In athletic terms, the distinction between the two is that one is an exhibition game while the other decides the season-ending championship.
In the context of politics and national debate, the two should be indistinguishable given that they’re the two events that compel even casual sports fans to watch. Yet MLB does not appear to have even briefly entertained the thought of making the Atlanta Braves play their home World Series games somewhere other than in Georgia.
Of course, we’re also talking about baseball leadership that has struggled for close to half a century to get both its leagues to use the designated hitter rule. Even before that, umpires in the two leagues abided by different strike zones. Addressing weightier matters seems beyond MLB’s skill set. It also helps explain the inability to shorten the length of games, which have crept from 2:38 in 1985 to 3:10 in 2021, likely a factor in declining interest in baseball.
There’s real money involved in the World Series
While some people opposed to the changes concerning Georgia voting laws applauded the decision to move the MLB All-Star Game, others expressed almost immediate concern about the effect on Atlanta-area hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. The uproar over the law also triggered calls for businesses to boycott the state. Obviously, there are substantial financial implications.
Thus, even MLB officials must have realized the implications of moving a minimum of two and a maximum of three World Series games out of Georgia. KPRC-TV in Houston reported that the city made around $30 million from the Astros’ World Series games in 2017. Losing July’s All-Star Game likely cost the Atlanta area multiples of that amount because of the number of fans who would have been traveling from other states.
The irony of it all? The Washington Football Team changed its name last year and baseball’s Cleveland Indians are changing theirs next season, yet the Braves’ name and logo, a hot-button issue in the past, remain intact.