UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – ‘Umpire’ rules 2021 ASG didn’t need to be ‘shifted’

Employing the jargon of the sport in every way I can to drive home my point, I am compelled to comment on the ruling by federal judge Steve C. Jones (in this case, the umpire) that Georgia not only was “safe” last season but also that it wasn’t even a close call.

I lead off by acknowledging that the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Denver was a tape-measure home run for local fans. So were the Futures Game and Home Run Derby that preceded it and all.

But we now know what we thought at the time: Atlanta was robbed.

In the equivalent of a game-time decision, given the years of preparation usually involved for a city to host an event of this magnitude, MLB shifted its 91st Midsummer Classic to Denver exactly 100 days before first pitch.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Commissioner Rob Manfred declared in a statement issued by MLB. Moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, he said, was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.”

A succession of line drives followed.

“I want to applaud and extend a thank you to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for moving the All-Star Game . . . following the (Georgia) Governor’s signing of the new restrictive voting law,” said Magic Johnson, part-owner of the Dodgers.

“Proud to call myself part of the MLB family today,” said LeBron James, who had recently joined the Boston Red Sox ownership group.

“We should promote increasing voter turnout as opposed to any measures that adversely impact the ability to cast a ballot,” said Marlins then-CEO Derek Jeter.

“I’m proud of the fact they stood by the voting rights of people,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker.

It was like batting around.

As if watching this donnybrook from the bleachers, major sponsors, eager to show that they supported The Wave, were quick to cheer it on.

Losing pitcher Stacey Abrams, outdueled by Kemp in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, cried foul and asked “New York” to reverse the decision.

Abrams created Fair Fight Action Inc. a few days after she lost and alleged that Georgia violated voters’ rights under the first, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Spitball, anyone?

Fair Fight also complained that precinct closures and long lines at polling places kept citizens from voting for its founder, and claimed that “thousands” of voters were unlawfully “purged” from eligible voter rolls, the equivalent of not even being allowed to come to the plate. Never mind that Georgia had set records for voter turnout in in both 2018 and 2020.

Only embattled Brian Kemp, the winner, dared to wear an opposition jersey, so to speak, or to stand up in any way for the other side.

Saying MLB was swayed by activists, Kemp called the controversy “a figment of cancel culture,” and maintained that the measure approved by the Georgia Legislature and signed into law by him “expands access to voting, secures ballot drop boxes around the clock in every county, expands weekend voting (and) protects no-excuse absentee voting.”

Using a sports metaphor, Kemp added: “It levels the playing field on voter I.D. requirements . . .”

Joe Biden—sounding like self-appointed Commissioner—called Georgia’s new voting law “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” which would have been a great line, if only it had been true. Instead, it was a wild pitch.

Almost 15 months later—as this year’s MLB regular season was coming to a close—Umpire/Judge Jones—an Obama draft choice, it should be noted—called Abrams and her claims “out.” 

“The Court finds that Georgia’s system of voting is equally open,” he wrote two weeks ago. “Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the Constitution nor the Voting Rights Act.”

An official scorer would have ruled, “E-1” in reference to relocating the 2021 All-Star Game, in this case the number signifying Manfred rather than some pitcher.

“Colorado has really knocked one out of the park on this,” gushed Colorado Governor Jared Polis, marshalling his own baseball cliché. Giddy at the news, Polis estimated the economic impact of landing this plum at $190 million—even though Holly Quinlan, president of Cobb Travel and Tourism, put the Atlanta area’s loss at, simply, “more than $100 million.”  

Of course, as pro athletes are wont to say whenever they’re involved in a contract dispute, it was never about the money. At least, not this money.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net