Sunday, June 19, 2011

All Star Protest

Arizona was awarded the 2011 All Star game in 2009, before the state passed its notorious anti-immigration bill that allows police to request documentation from anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant.  Despite boycotts and a lawsuit filed by the Obama Administration, Arizona is stubbornly clinging to its desire for racial profiling.  A federal court has struck down provisions of the bill, but the state is seeking review in the United States Supreme Court.

An article in yesterday's New York Times notes Major League Baseball's shameful silence in the face of calls to boycott the game if it isn't moved, and how this puts the many Latin American stars "in the impossible position of having to choose between showing solidarity to their people or to the game that has enriched them even as they have enriched it."  This is even more disturbing, the article points out, because of Baseball's long history of exploiting Latin American players.

In an earlier piece on the issue, I posted Rebecca Albert's proposal to use the All Star ballot as a form of protest by voting for as many Latin American players as possible.  It seems worth posting again (below). 

America Past Time

May, 28, 2011

I have always revered the All Star game.  When I was growing up, it meant seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente in the same outfield.  I got to see my idol Tom Seaver dominate the best American League hitters, as he did for 3 scoreless innings in 1970.  Even though All Star selections have become somewhat of a popularity contest, I am still offended when deserving players are left off the All Star roster while lesser players make the squad -- either because of misguided fan voting or due to the rule that each team is required to have at least one participant.  What I find even more offensive, however, is the refusal of Major League Baseball to move this year's game out of Arizona despite the state's unduly harsh immigration policies, particularly given the key role of Latino players in today's game. (27% of Major League players are Latino.)  Threatened boycotts and petitions have thus far failed to have an impact on the decision.

Rebecca Albert, who has written the book Out of Left Field:  Jews in Black Baseball, has come up with an interesting idea to use the All Star ballot as a form of protest to vote for as many Latino players as possible, many of whom may boycott the game.  This has the potential of shining a bright light on Arizona's outrageous anti-immigration laws.  While some will argue this will unnecessarily politicize the game, it is Major League Baseball's insensitivity to the impact these laws have on so many people, including many who play, work in and enjoy baseball, that has created the issue.

A Reason To Vote Along Racial Lines

by Rebecca Albert, originally published at OUP Blog, on May 26, 2011.

Growing up as a baseball fan in the 1950s and 60s, I could not wait until the All-Star game rolled around every July. (Imagine my delight during the years when there was a second game in August!) Back then, fans didn’t choose the players, so I would eagerly anticipate the announcement of the teams in the newspapers. Then I would rummage through my baseball card collection to pull out the All-Stars and admire their accomplishments. Watching the game on television was thrilling to me, no matter the outcome. If I was in summer camp, my mother would dutifully send me the newspaper clippings and box scores. My parents were avid baseball fans, but this exhibition game meant nothing to them. I am not really sure why it appealed to me, then or now. Taking my son to the game when it took place in Philadelphia in 1996 was a peak moment. For me it is an annual ritual on my sacred calendar, a holy day to celebrate like the birthdays of family and friends, Thanksgiving, Passover.

When I began to do research on the roles Jews played in black baseball a few years ago, I was delighted to find out that the Negro Leagues had their own all-star game (called the East-West game and held in Chicago every year) that was the centerpiece of the black baseball season. From its inception in 1933 the East-West game provided an opportunity for all the men of African descent who could surely have been in the majors if not for the color line to showcase their talent in a very public way. This knowledge permitted me to justify my obsession with the All-Star game; now not only a guilty pleasure but also a potential vehicle for a political message.

Imagine my despair when I learned last year that the 2011 All-Star game would really be a vehicle for another kind of political message. Despite serious protests this year’s game will be taking place in Arizona, home of the infamous SB 1070, the bill that would permit law enforcement officials to request documentation from anyone who might appear to be an illegal immigrant. Almost one-third of those on major league rosters are now Latino. Doesn’t the baseball establishment understand that this Arizona law is demeaning to people of Latin American ancestry? Don’t they see the connections to the embarrassing color line that forced black Americans to be second class citizens in baseball for so many years? Why wouldn’t they want to move the game to another venue to support their players who could be subject to this humiliating (and possibly unconstitutional) law?

Immigration rights groups have called for a boycott, and I have signed their petitions, but the game is surely not being moved. How could I possibly observe my annual ritual this summer? While wondering whether I should even participate in the voting for the starting line-ups, it occurred to me that voting held the answer to my dilemma. What if, like the East-West game, all the starting players were from one racial/ethnic group, only in this case Latino? Wouldn’t that send a message to Arizona and Major League Baseball? So that’s what I intend to do with my 25 votes. And I encourage you to do the same.

It’s easy. Just go to the ballot and vote for your local team (in my case Placido Polanco , Carlos Ruiz, and Raul Ibañez of the Phillies), future Hall of Famers (like Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez), perennial stars (Carlos Beltran, Bobby Abreu, Alfonso Soriano, Melky Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Jorge Posada) or this year’s standouts (Placido Polanco again, José Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, José Reyes, Miguel Cabrera, Gaby Sanchez, Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, Yadier Molina, Martin Prado, Starlin Castro, Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Jonathan Herrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio, Orlando Cabrera, Robinson Cano) or 2010 World Series heroes (Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval).

Don’t wait—vote early (you have until June 30) and often (25 times on the internet and whenever you’re at the ball park) and send a message to the majors that the All-Star game should showcase not only our best players but also our best values.

Rebecca Alpert is Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s Studies at Temple University and the author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball.


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