by Paul Kengor | April 15, 2021

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“Georgia has 17 days of in-person early voting, including two optional Sundays. Colorado has 15.… They also have a photo ID requirement. So, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

So puzzled Georgia Governor Brian Kemp over the decision by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. One can examine the precise details of Kemp’s comparison, but there’s no dispute that numerous states have more restrictive election laws than Georgia. An apples-to-apples comparison would require an exhaustive national study with careful state-by-state variations and rankings. All of which underscores the outrageousness of MLB dictating baseball decisions according to partisan political debates.

Alas, if Rob Manfred wants to be fair, he should form an MLB investigative team to look into Pennsylvania’s election laws to consider whether the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies should likewise be punished.

Indeed, Manfred’s new political criteria for baseball decisions begs the question: Are Pennsylvania’s voting laws more restrictive than Georgia’s? Our upcoming primary is May 18, and all absentee ballots must be in by May 11. According to Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, to vote “early in-person by mail-in or absentee ballot” you need a photo ID or your “PennDOT ID number” or last four digits of your Social Security number. By contrast, according to Georgia’s secretary of state, absentee ballots can be cast without a photo ID; voters can instead use a copy of a bank statement, a utility bill, a paycheck stub, the last four digits of a Social Security number, or several added options.

That’s just one limited area of comparison. As another example, the Georgia law sets standards for what can be handed out to voters waiting in line to cast ballots, guidelines which opponents are casting as restrictive, even abusive. Well, Pennsylvania has restrictions as well—on everything from handing out pens to emery boards.

Rob Manfred surely knows none of this. Instead, he blindly accepted an ideological caricature of Georgia’s election law by partisan Democrats who denounced it as “racist.” What’s so ironic is that he thus yanked the All-Star Game out of arguably America’s most-thriving city for black Americans and minority-owned businesses, costing them tens of millions of dollars. (Denver, ironically, has a far smaller minority population.)

This action doesn’t only hurt economically. Blacks in the South have long sought political enfranchisement. Election integrity laws do that. There can be few things as frustrating—i.e., a feeling of political disenfranchisement—as your vote being cancelled out by ballots for which the integrity cannot be ensured. Majorities of blacks and whites alike have long supported the common-sense step of requiring voters to provide some form of ID.

MLB believes in IDs, too. You need an ID to pick up your tickets or buy a beer at a game. And yet Major League Baseball cries foul if a state asks for your ID before you vote?

MLB, an organization with expertise not in ballots but balls and strikes, crossed the line, inserting itself into a political debate where it has no expertise and no place. We cannot have an America where sports organizations (MLB, the NFL, the NBA) harmonize (or weaponize) sports decisions according to partisan debates among politicians.

The worst part is MLB’s abuse of its fans, holding us hostage to the politics of the commissioner. It takes advantage of us—oh, they’ll still come to the ballpark and watch games on TV. They’ve forced millions to choose politics or baseball. Well, I’m not participating. I’ve decided not to watch a game this season, on TV or at the ballpark. It pains me, because I love baseball, but I have no choice.

Sadly, my decision (if shared by others) will hurt my team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, which needs all the fans it can get. But then again, the Pirates aren’t innocent in these matters. The organization hasn’t shied from embracing various “social justice” causes, including posting an enormous Black Lives Matter sign at PNC Park, which prompts this thought: will the Pirates pressure MLB to reverse its Atlanta pull-out, which undoubtedly hurts black lives? That would seem especially appropriate given that certain Pennsylvania voting laws are more restrictive than Georgia’s.

If the Pirates and MLB don’t like what I’m saying here, well, this is what happens when you inject politics into everything, even baseball.