Steve Blass played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for parts of 10 seasons. He won a World Series title in 1971, received an all-star selection the following season, and retired from diamond a few years later. In many ways, his demographics make him representative of the average major league baseball player.
“I am,” Blass said in a telephone interview on Monday, “a probably conservative, white, former baseball player who has learned through the presence of things that have become important to me.” Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and a lot of these people watching and admiring Henry Aaron, who I believe was all the best in the game. “
Case in point: After the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 watched Blass as his black teammates, including Maury Wills, Stargell, and Clemente, addressed the team and in the lack of an MLB-wide shiftunanimously lead the Pirates to suspend an exhibition game and the first two regular season games. This resulted in other teams adopting a similar stance, delaying the start of the MLB season by a few days.
When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced this on Friday He had drawn the All-Star Game in 2021 from a suburb of Atlanta for a new Georgia electoral law that Democrats and civil rights groups had predicted disproportionately suppress voter turnout among colored peoplePale applauded the action from his Florida home.
“They took it simply because people’s right to vote was questioned and / or threatened,” said the 78-year-old Blass, later adding, “I’m proud to have been a member of Major League Baseball because I was I’ve taken this stance because it’s not the easiest. It’s probably about a lot of sponsorship money. But I’m happy. Roberto Clemente would have been happy too. “
MLB’s move was a turning point for a sport long known for its traditionalism and slow nature. Baseball banned black players from its teams until 1947. More recently, Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig declined multiple calls from Latinos to reschedule the 2011 Phoenix All-Star game over a controversial Arizona immigration law that was rejected by the players’ union. And last year MLB was waiting nine days before delving into George Floyd’s murder and protests that followed, this was the last of the four major professional sports leagues in North America to do so.
“This is a step towards where it should be,” said Blass. “And we knew that sometimes they didn’t take those steps, but this is a significant step and I’m proud of that.”
There were many factors that made MLB’s level unique. Much like their counterparts in professional basketball or soccer, the owners of MLB clubs are largely Republican donors. The sport’s fan base is older and less diverse than that of the N.FL. and the NBA and the majority of major league players are whites, many of whom are conservative in their personal politics. (About 30 percent of MLB players are Latinos, most of them from outside the US, and only 8 percent are black.)
When Manfred said he would remove the All-Star Game and its amateur draft from the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park because it was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport,” he was taking a calculated risk. It wasn’t just a big undertaking laying a marquee three months in advance – that Colorado Rockies are the new hosts – but it also threatened to upset some club owners, players, fans and politicians.
“The position that Major League Baseball takes for me is very powerful and the first time they have really moved up in my memory,” Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson said in a telephone interview over the weekend.
While Jackson said this was the right news for MLB, he insisted the league had more work to do. He has repeatedly urged MLB to do so redouble their efforts Representation throughout the sport, from the bleachers to the boardrooms, more in tune with the US population. For example: there is only one majority owner of colors in MLB, Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels; and there are only four non-white heads of baseball operations among the 30 clubs.
“There needs to be more reflection from all businesses, including baseball,” said Jackson, 74, a Black American of Puerto Rican descent. “Baseball is further behind the other sports.”
Prior to Manfred’s announcement, no player had publicly called for a boycott of the All-Star game. Jackson said part of the reason could be due to the low percentage of blacks in the game.
In the previous days, some white players voiced their opinion that the game should stay in Georgia, with Braves star Freddie Freeman arguing it could serve as a platform for a discussion of voting rights and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Collin McHugh said that he did this I don’t want to deprive the people of Atlanta of the game despite his disappointment in the legislature of his home state.
One of the few people in baseball who publicly questioned the game prior to the commissioner’s announcement was Dave Roberts, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Roberts, who is black and Asian-American, had said he would consider turning down the honor of heading the National League team but sounded relieved when MLB announced the move.
Before making his decision, Manfred spoke privately with the Players Alliance, a nonprofit that was formed after Floyd’s murder last year and consisted of over 100 current and former black players. Curtis Granderson, former player and group president, said in television interviews that he told Manfred the different perspectives of the black players and “our non-black brothers who played next to us”. Manfred understood that the status quo would have enabled players and coaches to answer questions about the game or decide whether or not to participate.
“It’s disappointing when people say they have to make a choice,” Jackson said before listing famous sports figures who he argued were going against the grain: Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James and Sandy Koufax. He added, “There are so many whites out there who feel the same to take a stand. Please step out. I am here to support you. “
Though Jackson said he understood the wrath of the Braves He said the league made the right choice because they lost the game and the impact of corporate pressure (Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, two of the Braves’ two major sponsors, rejected the law a few days before the MLB announcement).
The Players Alliance said they would continue to visit Atlanta as they planned to do their job, as would MLB separately. (MLB and the Players Alliance, funded by the league and the players union, are committed to continuing their community service efforts in Atlanta.)
If baseball legend Hank Aaron was still around, Houston Astros managers Dusty Baker and Jackson said he would have had something powerful to say about the All-Star Game debate. Aaron, who experienced racism throughout his career, died in January. During the week of the All-Star Game in Atlanta, MLB and the Braves had planned to honor the legacy of the Hall of Famer, a former Braves player and manager.
“He would be calm and relaxed, but he was really open about civil rights,” said the 71-year-old Baker about his former teammate before Manfred’s announcement.
There was a time, Baker said, when blacks in the US weren’t even allowed to vote, so getting to that point in history was difficult enough. He warned that what was happening was not unique to Georgia. other states are drawing closer Pass new laws that would further restrict voting.
So after the announcement from MLB, Baker told reporters that it was a “pretty big and brave move” and that he was proud of the league.
Before Friday, Baker had considered traveling to Atlanta during the All-Star hiatus because his son, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley, might be drafted and because Aaron’s widow Billye and a friend of the Aaron family invited him had. After the MLB announcement, Baker had to think about his late friend and mentor.
“Hank would have liked that even if it had been his town,” he told reporters. “He always had human rights at the forefront of his mind and heart.”