As the woke virus spreads across American society faster than Covid, baseball – supposedly the national pastime – has been turned into yet another cesspool of sanctimony, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity. In fact the recent trend toward major-league descent into political desolation is being fed by a deeper, more protracted legacy of institutional corruption and monopolistic power. All pretenses of an uplifting professional sport dedicated to high principles, fairness, and “level playing field” have now been revealed as more bankrupt than ever.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s ill-informed decision to relocate the All-Star game from Georgia to Colorado in the wake of outsized liberal panic over a new Georgia voting law simply adds to the legacy. “Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box”, Manfred said. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.” Democrats and such groups as Rock the Vote have fiercely denounced the commonplace regulations as a recycling of Jim Crow, although the law does nothing more than require absentee voters to furnish valid ID, a stipulation hardly unique to Georgia.
Magic Johnson, part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tweeted: “I want to applaud and extend a thank you to MLB Commissioner Manfred for moving the All-Star game out of Georgia . . . Way to be a leader and take a strong stance.” What exactly bothered Johnson was not made clear. Not to be outdone, LeBron James, having recently joined ownership of the Boston Red Sox with a stake in the Fenway Sports Group, added: “Proud to call myself part of the MLB family today.”
What precisely has Manfred and MLB managed to achieve with this unprecedented decision? What “values” are ostensibly being preserved? Within days of Manfred’s impulsive decision the backlash began to surface. From the hometown Atlanta Braves: “This was neither our decision nor our recommendation, and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city. Unfortunately, business, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.” The victims happen to reside in an urban area that is more than 50 percent black – compared to Denver’s roughly seven percent black population.
Nor did this woke deceit impress one of the few black co-owners of an MLB enterprise, Kim Blackwell of the Cincinnati Reds. Blackwell denounced Manfred’s hasty move in strongest terms, stating the Commissioner was unfairly punishing Georgia, the Braves, its fans, and the many local businesses and workers. Manfred had simply “failed to do his homework.
Blackwell recognized what should be obvious – that presuming blacks (or any ethnic or racial group) will face insurmountable obstacles coming up with an ID for voting or indeed any other purpose is itself plainly condescending, racist. It is worth asking how many of those Democrats screaming about the horrors of voting IDs now favor more irrational vaccine passports. How many will need an ID getting on a plane to Denver – or picking up tickets at the gate?
There is the deeper question as to whether the suddenly woke baseball establishment can ultimately pass the test of ethical consistency. As noted, MLB has long been a particularly corrupt American institution. For nearly a century the major leagues have been granted an indefensible exemption from corporate anti-trust laws, endowing its owners with virtually unchallengeable levels of monopoly power — the capacity to play by their own economic rules.
In 1922 the Supreme Court declared that baseball was not engaged in interstate commerce – a ridiculous assertion then and now – and would therefore be excused from just-passed antitrust legislation. The high court reaffirmed this decision in 1953 and 1972, meaning that MLB has been alone among professional sports leagues in its exemption. One result is that MLB has stood forever as a legal monopoly, otherwise known as the “baseball anomaly”. No federal bill to override this strange exemption has ever made it out of committee in either the House or Senate. Congress too has shown itself to be content with baseball’s legal monopoly.
MLB owners and their puppet commissioner have been able to exert such inordinate corporate leverage owing to their ruthless lobbies posing as exemplars of the “American pastime”. As Rep. Emanuel Cellar once explained: “I want to say that I have never known, in my 35 years of experience, of as great a lobby that descended upon the House than the organized baseball lobby . . . They came upon Washington like locusts.” Andrew Zimbalist writes in Baseball and Billions that the MLB antitrust exemption has not only subverted prospects of a rival league but has guaranteed a destructive “culture of arrogance and mismanagement” within ownership ranks. So much for Manfred’s pious moralizing about fairness, equity, and “our special values as a sport”.
Manfred’s removal of the All-Star game from Georgia might turn out, however, to be counter-productive for baseball. Fans seem to be sliding away from the game in droves, recent polls indicating a greater than 30-percent drop in baseball TV viewership. Meanwhile, the Senate is moving to jettison the MLB antitrust exemption, led by Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley. They are asking, finally, why such a monopolistic enterprise should be given preferential treatment over other sectors, why in effect baseball should be granted what amounts to huge federal subsidies and other benefits.
MLB has long been fraudulent in other ways. Its very structure is grossly biased and discriminatory, privileging just a few elite, big-market teams over all others. As baseball teams enter competition, their enormous disparity of resources inevitably reflects the lie about “integrity of the game” and “equal playing field”. Those resources include money, media exposure, market reach, payroll levels, and more. Teams located in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston have always enjoyed overwhelming advantages. These elite organizations routinely dominate the landscape, which means that every season, among 32 baseball teams, no more than five or six have reasonable hopes of getting to the World Series. With rare exceptions, players from all other teams will be watching TV in October.
Opening Day 2021 MLB payrolls are starkly revealing. With a stupendous payroll of $235 million the L.A. Dodgers (2020 World Series champs) exceeded that of the second-place New York Yankees (at $191 million) by almost the total payroll of several teams at the bottom. With an average MLB payroll of $120 million, the few teams with collective salaries over $170 million (Dodgers, Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, etc.) can feel abundantly confident of reaching post-season competition. Occasional outliers (the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays, at $65 million, for example) represent nothing but a marked deviation from the norm. Such teams as the Seattle Mariners ($64 million), Miami Marlins ($49 million), and Baltimore Orioles ($45 million) have virtually zero chances of success. No one at the summits of MLB power has done anything to correct this monstrous disparity.
Manfred and the MLB owners can endlessly virtue-signal about the need for fairness in American elections, yet their sprawling empire offers a scandalous example of how ruthless, corporate, big-market monopolies continue to make a farce of an “equal playing field”. Their decision to move the All-Star game from Georgia to Colorado ranks of extreme hypocrisy. Their outrageously rigged sport, where corporate power and media leverage dictate everything, reveals more than anything the duplicitous character of those who would lecture others about “equal access” and “our values”.