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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Real All-Star Baseball

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Even in the midst of a disappointing, inconsistent season, Milwaukee Brewers fans could take pride in the selection of three legitimate All-Stars—Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Yovani Gallardo—to the 2010 All-Star Game.

Long-suffering Brewers fans well remember all those years when the Brewers received a single selection—let’s face it—primarily because each team was required to be represented by at least one player.

Gallardo gave many of us another reason to be proud when he said he’d boycott next year’s All-Star Game if selected unless the game is moved from Arizona.

It was a surprising statement from a member of a team that rarely gets involved in off-the-field controversies not related to baseball. It’s less surprising that Gallardo, no doubt under pressure, immediately began backing away from what he said.

But the controversy over the scheduled venue for the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix will not go away as baseball Commissioner Bud Selig issues vague and contorted public statements.

In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Latino civil rights organization, called on Selig to move next year’s game.

At issue, of course, is the recently passed Arizona law requiring local police to demand proof of citizenship from anyone “where a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

The Legislature tried to paper over the obvious racial profiling by tacking on an amendment declaring race was not a legitimate reason for suspicion. But no one seriously believes the law will be used against anyone except Latinos.

The law is essentially the two-thirds white population in Arizona declaring war on the one-third Latino population. The Legislature also outlawed some teaching in the schools that highlights the history or accomplishments of Latinos.

The Justice Department has filed suit claiming Arizona is attempting to pre-empt federal authority over immigration.

Legitimate Concerns

The reason the state’s hostile anti-immigration actions are of legitimate concern to Major League Baseball (MLB) goes far beyond next year’s All-Star Game. Half of all MLB teams conduct spring training in Arizona. Baseball is intertwined with the state’s economy.

More important is the moral issue. Since overcoming its racist past of barring African-American players by admitting Jackie Robinson in 1947, Major League Baseball has trumpeted its increasing diversity.

Today, more than one-third of MLB players are either Latino or African American. As baseball declines in popularity in black communities of the United States, a growing majority of players of color come from Latin America.

As a result, Henderson and Murguia wrote in the Post, “next year our favorite All-Stars could enter a hostile environment and the families, friends and fans of a third of the players could be treated as second-class citizens because of their skin color or the way they speak. …

“What is happening in Arizona is a regression from the freedoms we hold dear and a violation of our civil rights and fundamental values. We are not asking Selig to weigh in on immigration policy; we are asking him to take a stand against bigotry and intolerance.”

The AP quoted Gallardo, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas, as saying: “If the game is in Arizona, I will totally boycott.”

Although those words by Gallardo, who speaks perfect English, don’t seem to leave much room for interpretation, a day later Gallardo said he could no longer definitively say whether he would boycott an Arizona All-Star Game.

“They got the words messed up,” Gallardo said. “I said I’d stand behind the Latin community. I don’t agree with the law … Most of the Latin guys don’t agree with it. As a player, that’s where we stand.”

About half a dozen Latino players so far have said they would boycott an All-Star game in Arizona. Others, including Latino superstar Albert Pujols, have criticized the law. Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, the first Latino manager to win a World Series, is the first manager to say he’ll boycott an Arizona game.

The MLB Players Association says it will fully back any player who chooses to boycott a 2011 game in Arizona.

Selig obviously wishes baseball could float above divisive social issues on which players and fans have strong feelings. But baseball is smack dab in the middle of this one.

In 1993, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from Arizona in a previous boycott protesting the state’s racist refusal to recognize the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Now it’s time for Selig and Major League Baseball to stand up for the players and all those diverse fans they say they want.