Remember April, when Major League Baseball (MLB) pulled this year’s All-Star game from Georgia to protest the state’s new restrictive voting law? At the time MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft. Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
But that was six months ago, an eternity in this country’s short attention span. Tonight’s opening game in the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros will undoubtedly utter nary a syllable about Georgia’s infamous bill or the Astros 2017 cheat-a-thon World Series victory. (More about that in a minute.)
Manfred and MLB have moved on. As proof, one only had to witness the clinching game last Saturday in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Dodgers that featured country “star” Travis Tritt singing the national anthem. (Apparently Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was busy lifting weights and rustling up support for the January 6 insurrectionists.)
Tritt, a B-lister on the Nashville circuit of crooners, whose last forgettable hit came out 21 years ago, has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The Georgia native canceled a series of concerts in venues where masks or a proof of a Covid-19 vaccination were required. This in spite of 700,000 Americans dead from Covid, a disproportionate amount of whom refused to get vaccinated. Tritt apparently supports those who are defying “the squelching of any specific freedoms and basic human rights around the world.” How patriotic of him. MLB’s response? Crickets.
Money speaks volumes. For Manfred to punish Georgia for its voting bill and pull the series out of Atlanta and move it to a neutral site would take the kind of courage that has never existed in the front offices or owners’ boxes of any American sport. Courage often cuts into the bottom line. (For the most recent example, see how the National Football League has blackballed Colin Kaepernick while using his activism as a marketing tool.)
In addition, we will have to endure the “tomahawk chop” and its accompanying racist bellow during the World Series at Truist Park. How this honors Native Americans remains a mystery to me. The National Congress of American Indians had it right when it stated that the chop “reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated, and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture. We would count the ‘tomahawk chop’ to be among those symbols.”
What should replace the chop and, while we are at it, the name “Braves,” would be a long-term, concerted marketing effort by MLB to educate fans as to how genocide of Native Americans is part and parcel of the “founding” of this country, and how the horrible conditions that Native Americans now endure on tribal lands are a continuation of that genocide.
Moving on to Houston, the largest city in a state that has given its citizens the most restrictive abortion laws perhaps in the Americas, complete with bounties for those busybodies that rat on any woman choosing what to do with her body. Contrast that with Texas Governor Abbott’s stand on mask and vaccine mandates that interfere with what he says is a citizen’s right to choose what to do with his or her body.
In 2019, the Houston Astros were revealed to have cheated during games held in 2017. There were few consequences for the players involved, several who are still on this year’s roster. They got to reap all the monetary rewards of their World Series win that year, sending a powerful lesson to all the kids out there: If you’re not cheating you’re not trying. The trophy is still theirs. The contracts are guaranteed.
When the Astros punched their ticket for this year’s World Series there was talk of “redemption” for the players. One October 24 headline specifically stated: “Astros Seek Redemption With World Series Win Over Braves.” Redemption for cheating? Is this some new-fangled definition I’m not familiar with?
To complete this year’s circle of infuriating characters, the Astros are managed by long-time old-school baseball guy Dusty Baker. You can be sure that between the barrage of ads for gambling sites (hello Pete Rose!) none of the baseball TV chatterboxes will dare mention Baker’s past coddling of MLB’s All-Star cheater and steroid stalwart Barry Bonds. Here’s Dusty defending Bonds on MLB Network: “Well, you know something, everyone talks about the PED use. I was there and I don’t know, and I don’t think other people know either because when I was a kid I used to say you were innocent until proven guilty.” Well, we all saw how Bonds’ head became as big as a pumpkin.
As to his current team’s legacy of dishonesty, Denying Dusty is as defiant as ever. “How many in the stands have never done anything wrong in their life? We paid the price for it. How many people have not cheated on a test or whatever at some point in time?”
So, to recap, we have cheaters managed by a see-no-evil guy playing a team that rallies around racist symbols and anti-vaxxers, both teams located in states that are vying to see who can race to the bottom the fastest.
This year, more than ever, baseball is as American as it gets.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is “West of East.”