The 91st MLB All-Star Game is scheduled to be played in Atlanta this July. But on Thursday, in the wake of voting-restriction legislation signed into law by the Georgia governor, the executive director of the MLB Players Association said the players are ready to discuss moving their annual midsummer exhibition out of Georgia.
“Players are very much aware” of the Georgia voting bill, which places restrictions on voting that some believe will make it particularly difficult for Black voters to reach the polls, said Tony Clark in an interview with the Globe. “As it relates to the All-Star Game, we have not had a conversation with the league on that issue. If there is an opportunity to, we would look forward to having that conversation.”
The bill supported by the Republican-majority state legislature drew national attention Thursday, with President Joe Biden describing it and similar attempts in other states as “pernicious” and “un-American,” and that it “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
A Los Angeles Times column on Thursday called for MLB to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
In 2016, the NBA decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, N.C., a reaction to a bill enacted by the state that limited anti-discrimination protections. In explaining the decision, the league said it was acting on its “longstanding core values,” which “include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.”
Clark usually speaks with the baseball media in Florida and Arizona each March after meeting in person with the 30 teams, but the pandemic made that impossible this spring training.
Clark touched on a number of other topics, including the impending — and likely contentious — talks over the expiring collective bargaining agreement.
▪ He lauded the pending approval of MLB for NBA superstar LeBron James to become a part-owner of the Red Sox by becoming a partner in the team’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group.
“I think anytime a player perspective can be brought to a room full of non-players, there’s value,” said Clark, who played with the Red Sox in 2002, midway through a 15-season, six-team major league career.
Even an NBA player?
“Even from another sport, in this instance,” said Clark.
James and business partner Maverick Carter are becoming the first Black partners in Fenway Sports Group. Diversity among minority and majority partners in ownership groups around MLB is low. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports recently gave MLB team presidents and general managers a grade of “C-plus” for racial hiring.
“I think diversity is key to growth, and would like to see more of it as a result of our players’ collective goal of growing the industry,” said Clark.
▪ Clark spoke in generalities about areas of focus for the players in the next CBA. They include a more competitive environment, focused on incentivizing and rewarding success on the field; getting younger players who are producing for their teams more fairly compensated; and getting more meaningful free-agent contracts for veteran players.
▪ Asked if President Biden, with former Boston mayor and strong pro-labor Labor Secretary Marty Walsh serving in his Cabinet, would be beneficial to the union during CBA talks, Clark said, “Having a pro-labor administration is more helpful from our perspective than the opposite. We’ll see.”
▪ MLB teams have spent less on free agents and doled out shorter-term contracts than in recent winters. Clark did not sound surprised.
“This offseason market seems to have drawn distinctions between clubs that want to compete and grow their fan bases and ensure the long-term well-being of their franchises over some others,” he said. “We saw some engage and we saw some that didn’t.
“It perhaps goes without saying that baseball ownership still remains a lucrative long-term endeavor. And our player window for our guys to play still remains remarkably short.”
▪ Usually, management and the union would have held formal sit-downs by at least spring training. Clark said this year, those talks will begin during the regular season.
▪ The offseason was notable in that MLB tried but failed to get the players to shorten the season and start it later, as well as for anti-player sentiment coming from Kevin Mather that cost Mather his job as president of the Seattle Mariners.
“Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No,” said Clark.
▪ About reports that MLB informed teams in a memo of plans to use Statcast technology as a tool to analyze spin rate and crack down on pitchers using foreign substances, Clark said, “Those memos were leaked memos. We have since reached out to the league for a conversation. The rules themselves are on the books and haven’t changed. But the memo, we were not aware of, and we are actively engaged with the league to discuss.”