MLB moves All-Star game out of Georgia over voting law

Major League Baseball, the Braves and officials from the City of Atlanta and Cobb County last year unveiled
the official logo of the 2021 All-Star Game. That game now will be moved out of Georgia.
Caption
Major League Baseball, the Braves and officials from the City of Atlanta and Cobb County last year unveiled the official logo of the 2021 All-Star Game. That game now will be moved out of Georgia.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Major League Baseball said Friday it will move this season’s All-Star game, a high-profile event that had been scheduled for Truist Park in July, out of Georgia in response to the state’s new voting law.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision eight days after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the sweeping elections overhaul into law amid fierce opposition from Democrats and voting rights activists.

“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.”

The push to move the game had gathered momentum after several large corporations condemned the new law and President Joe Biden said he would “strongly support” relocating the event.

Kemp, who two years ago participated in a ceremony awarding the All-Star festivities to Atlanta, blasted MLB’s decision.

“Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies,” Kemp said in a statement. “Georgians - and all Americans - should fully understand what MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms predicted baseball’s decision is “likely the first of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”

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Manfred’s announcement ended several years of planning by the Braves to host the All-Star game and related activities. The Braves said Friday they are “deeply disappointed” by MLB’s action.

“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,” the Braves said in a statement. “The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities, and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times, and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.

“Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”

MLB is now “finalizing a new host city” for the game and will announce details “shortly,” Manfred said.

“We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities,” Manfred said in a statement. “In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star legacy projects will move forward.”

Manfred said that over the past week his office had “thoughtful conversations” with teams, current and former players, the MLB Players Association, the Players Alliance and others about moving the game. Tony Clark, executive director of the Players Association, had said last week that the union wanted to discuss the possibility.

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Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said she was disappointed to learn of MLB’s decision, but she understood it.

Cupid said she appealed to Clark during a phone conversation Wednesday to help keep the All-Star game here because Cobb businesses were in desperate need of the dollars it would bring.

“We certainly would have been uplifted had they chose to stay here,” Cupid said. “Recognizing that we are in a pandemic, this would have given us a lift out of that.”

Cupid said she got a call Friday afternoon notifying her of the decision. “I can’t say I was surprised,” she said. “We were all aware of the risks that the (elections law) put our state in.”

Cupid said MLB’s move highlights the need for her and other Cobb officials and business leaders to send a message to state lawmakers “that we can do better as a state to showcase that we are an open and inviting county that not only values our visitors, but that we value our residents and our voters.”

Democratic state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, who represents Smyrna and the Truist Park area in the Legislature, also expressed disappointment the game was moved. “At the same time, I absolutely understand the disgust and frustration with our leadership in Georgia that ultimately led to this decision,” she said.

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate, said she, too, was disappointed in MLB’s decision to relocate the game but proud of its stance on voting rights. She urged events and productions to “come and speak out or stay and fight.”

Kemp, in his statement, called losing the event “the direct result of repeated lies from Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections.”

“I will not back down,” Kemp said. “Georgians will not be bullied.”

Said former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who started a GOP-leaning voter mobilization group called Greater Georgia after her January defeat: “It’s extremely unfortunate that MLB has fallen into the woke misinformation campaign being spread by Democrats -- only to the detriment of hardworking Georgians and small businesses.”

The state’s new far-ranging elections law includes a new ID requirement for mail-in votes, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over local elections officials. It also bans volunteers from handing out food and water to voters waiting in lines and expands weekend voting in some rural counties.

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Kemp and other supporters say the overhaul will increase confidence in Georgia’s voting system.

Democrats and voting rights advocates say the restrictions in the new law aim to suppress turnout from voters of color after November and January elections ended in GOP defeats in Georgia, once a reliably Republican state. Left-leaning organizations have filed four lawsuits asking federal judges to declare the law an unconstitutional violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The All-Star game was to have capped a several-days-long series of events in and around Truist Park. In addition to the game matching National League stars vs. American League stars on July 13, All-Star events were scheduled to include the Futures game featuring top prospects, the Home Run Derby and a baseball fan festival called Play Ball Park.

MLB’s amateur draft also had been scheduled for July 11-13 in Atlanta. That, too, will be moved elsewhere, Manfred said.

The Braves and Cobb County began pursuing an All-Star game as soon as the stadium opened in 2017 and were officially awarded the 2021 event amid great fanfare in 2019.

“We are deeply saddened and very disappointed with the decision to move the (game),” Sharon Mason, Cobb Chamber president and CEO, said Friday. “Our county, region and state were excited and ready to host fans and experience our community with many events planned.

“This decision will have a negative impact on the frontline workers and local businesses located around Truist Park and our region that were looking forward to the economic boost from these events. It is important that we support our local businesses now more than ever.”

Georgia companies and events have faced growing threats of boycotts from voting rights advocates who say local corporations should have done more to oppose the legislation before it was signed into law. Coca-Cola and Delta sharply criticized the new legislation Wednesday, so infuriating Republican leaders that there was a brief attempt to rescind a lucrative tax break that benefited the airline.

Some critics of the law also have increasingly focused on the sporting industry, asking the NCAA and the World Cup to forgo Georgia for future premier events.

Baseball’s All-Star game has been held in Atlanta twice – in 1972 at Atlanta Stadium (later renamed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium) and in 2000 at Turner Field.