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A Reason to Vote Along Racial Lines (In the All-Star Game, At Least)

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 (Oxford University Press, 2011). This post originally appeared on the Oxford University Press blog

Out-of-left-field 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?

Rebecca-alpert 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.

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game. Read an excerpt of Raceball on Scribd