The Nation's Pulse

Baseball’s Arizona Strikeout

MLB throws spitballs at new immigration law.

By 5.5.10

The biggest obstacle facing Arizona's much maligned new immigration law is not that it could be struck down by the Supreme Court but rather that it could be struck out by Major League Baseball.

Baseball is not only America's pastime but it also generates billions of dollars in revenue across the country. The economic benefits of baseball are seen not only in cities with major league teams but in smaller communities with minor league franchises. Outside of Florida there is perhaps no other state that derives a greater economic benefit from baseball than Arizona where professional baseball is played nearly year round.

Every March, baseball fans converge on Arizona to watch spring training games under the auspices of the Cactus League. Since 1998, the number of teams in the Cactus League has nearly doubled from eight to fifteen. This season, the Cactus League welcomed the Cincinnati Reds to its ranks. In 2009, the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers joined up. The Dodgers were lured to Glendale from Vero Beach, Florida, which had been their spring training home since 1948.

Of course, there are the Arizona Diamondbacks. Remember Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series? But if the D'Backs aren't playing post-season in October then baseball fans can satiate their appetites for extra innings through the middle of November with the Arizona Fall League. It is estimated that Arizona generates more than $350 million in revenue from the Cactus League alone. Not surprisingly those who oppose Arizona's new immigration law are hoping they can persuade MLB to swing into action.

Some want to boycott the D'Backs. This, however, might not be such an effective tactic. Should the D'Backs, who finished in last place in the NL West in 2009, end up playing poorly again this summer, fans will stay away from Chase Field immigration law or no immigration law.

But then there is the 2011 MLB All-Star Game which is set to be held in the aforementioned Chase Field. José Serrano, a Democratic Congressman in New York's 16th District, has called on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to move the game from Phoenix. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has said he will not go west if he is asked to take part in the proceedings.

Late last week, Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner issued a statement (pdf) opposing the law:

We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

The same day Weiner issued his statement, the Arizona legislature modified the legislation and these changes were approved by Governor Jan Brewer.

Naturally, I was curious whether these modifications would mollify the MLBPA. If these changes weren't satisfactory, then what suggestions did they have to offer? And what "additional steps" would the MLBPA take if their demands were not met? However, when I spoke with MLBPA Communications Director Greg Bouris over the phone he declined to elaborate beyond what was contained in Weiner's statement.

As of this writing, Commissioner Selig has not issued a statement of his own concerning this matter. However, if Selig were to make a statement concurring with Weiner then all bets are off. While the MLBPA represents the interest of the players the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball represents the owners. If the players and owners are in solidarity in opposition to Senate Bill 1070, this legislation might face an insurmountable obstacle.

If you are a fan of baseball then you will know that Latino players born both within the United States and outside its borders comprise a significant presence in the game. Nearly one out of every four players on major league rosters is Latino. This gives ample room for those who seek to engage in demagoguery. Exhibit A: President Barack Obama. Consider what he said at a town hall meeting in Iowa last week: 

But you can imagine, if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona -- your great-grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state. But now, suddenly, if you don't have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you're going to be harassed. That's something that could potentially happen

The idea that law enforcement officials in Arizona are going to stake out every Baskin-Robbins along Interstate 17 laying in wait for Hispanic families is not only preposterous but a poorly conceived notion. But when President Obama speaks people listen. No wonder Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis is freaking out. The Venezuelan born veteran infielder recently commented:

Now they're going to go after everybody, not just the people behind the wall. Now they're going to come out on the street. What if you're walking on the street with your family and kids? They're going to go after you.

But why would the police come after Izturis if he is merely walking the street with his family? Unless Izturis is engaging some kind of illegal activity, the only reason the police might stop him is to ask for his autograph. While Izturis is trouble on the baseball field he should have nothing to fear while walking Arizona's straight and narrow streets with his family.

Unfortunately, President Obama and others have taken ownership of the Arizona immigration bill with fallacies and fear instead of facts and figures. If Cesar Izturis honestly believes police are going to go after him, then it is incumbent upon Governor Brewer and State Senator Russell Pearce (the bill's sponsor) to give reassurance that he and others have nothing to fear from Arizona's new immigration law. Then perhaps Izturis will be at ease outside the lines. 

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.