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Pulling All-Star Game was best way baseball could honor Hank Aaron

John Romano | Baseball’s all-time home run king deserved this kind of support from MLB in the 1970s.
Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves reacts in Atlanta after hitting his 700th career home run against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves reacts in Atlanta after hitting his 700th career home run against the Philadelphia Phillies. [ Associated Press (1973) ]
Published Apr. 3
Updated Apr. 3

ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball has decided to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, and you are outraged at this blatant example of cancel culture. Or you are thrilled that this $10 billion industry has stood up to knee-jerk conservatism. Either way, I don’t care.

Don’t take that personally because, right about now, I don’t care about my own reaction either. Too many of us are too quick to indulge in our own jaundiced views without spending one flipping second considering the people who are actually affected by an issue.

And I don’t mean Georgia’s governor, or MLB’s commissioner. Decisions that are contemplated in the backseat of a limousine rarely reflect the realities of everyday life.

No, the voice we need to hear went silent when Hank Aaron passed away in January. Instead, maybe we should listen for the echoes of the Hammer’s life.

Would Aaron be outraged over new voting laws in Georgia that seem to target the African-American community? Of course, he would. Would Aaron be heartbroken about his longtime home losing an event as significant as the All-Star Game. That seems plausible, too.

That’s part of what made Aaron an American treasure. He was the perfect blend of hope and resolve. A man who faced abhorrent conduct day after day and came away neither bitter nor broken.

Think about the world Aaron endured not so long ago. When he came to Bradenton for spring training in the 1960s, he was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as his white teammates and instead slept on the couches and in the hallways of families in the Black part of town. When he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record in the 1970s, he was inundated with hate mail, death threats and racial epithets from the bleachers.

And how much of the population, do you suppose, said racism wasn’t a problem in America in those days?

We’ve always had trouble seeing the world through the eyes of our neighbors, and it often takes the distance of years to understand our own shortcomings. If you think racism isn’t a part of 21st century life, then you haven’t been paying very close attention to the world around you.

Hank Aaron deserved better. He deserved more support than he got from Major League Baseball and the Braves in the 1960s. He deserved greater respect from baseball fans than he got in the 1970s. He should not have had to endure so many slights and abuses on his own.

Ultimately, that should be today’s takeaway.

This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, as much as some people might want to frame it that way. This isn’t about Major League Baseball crossing some invisible line into the realm of politics.

This is about baseball listening to the concerns of its players. This is about baseball showing more concern about being on the correct side of history than on the profit side of its financial ledger.

Rays reliever Collin McHugh grew up near Atlanta and recently talked about his disappointment in Georgia’s new election laws. At the same time, McHugh expressed reservations about penalizing fans in Atlanta who have been looking forward to the All-Star Game.

“It’s hard; I don’t have a great answer for it to be honest with you,” McHugh told reporters on a Zoom call last week. “It’s disappointing in a huge way from a political standpoint, but I think baseball can transcend a lot of political things and we’ll see what ends up happening. But obviously I’m behind baseball, whatever we do, because I think using our weight and using the status that we have given to us by our fans, it means something and we should be putting that weight behind things that matter.”

We will have months, and maybe years, to debate the politics of this moment. To argue whether voter ID laws are a common-sense safeguard against rare instances of ballot fraud, or a cynical attempt to suppress turnout among specific voting groups.

For now, I’d rather ponder how baseball honored the memory of Atlanta’s greatest baseball hero by moving its All-Star Game out of his hometown.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com . Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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