Politics

Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and Cuba can help MLB fix unforced error in Georgia

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Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred thought he would hit a homerun with his partisan attack on Georgians, yanking the All-Star game from Atlanta based on falsehoods about a new Georgia law that ensures ballot access for all legal voters, while blocking illegal votes.

Now, with President Joe Biden and other Democrats backpedaling from their embrace of baseball’s Georgia boycott, it’s increasingly clear Manfred whiffed and struck out. It’s bad enough MLB pulled the game and the estimated $100 million in economic activity it would have generated for metro Atlanta, all in the name of racial “equity” — after all, Atlanta is a majority-Black city. But by linking MLB so tightly to political bickering about voting procedures — rather than, say, working on World Series viewership, down about one-third over the last 20 years  — he has drawn attention to the league’s business relationships with dictatorships in China and Cuba, where citizens have no voting rights whatsoever.

The Obama-Biden administration in 2016, prodded by millions of dollars in MLB lobbying, pre-approved the permissibility of payments from MLB to Cuba’s Baseball Federation, despite existing U.S. economic sanctions. This led to a 2018 MLB-Cuba baseball agreement that would have permitted certain categories of Cuban players to sign with MLB teams without defecting. The team would pay millions to Cuba’s federation for each player signed, and the league agreed in turn — outrageously — to penalize Cubans who defect from the communist dictatorship, by slapping them with a mandatory waiting period before they could be signed by a U.S. team. That billionaire U.S. team owners agreed to punish poor Cubans for successfully fleeing tyranny is itself worse than even the most false allegation leveled against the Georgia election bill.

The Trump administration’s Treasury Department, however, in April 2019, blocked that agreement by judging the Cuban Baseball Federation to be a subsidiary of the Cuban government, and thus subject to U.S. sanctions.

Compare the sweetheart deal MLB had obtained from the Obama-Biden administration with the roadblocks the U.S. government, under both parties, has put in the way of America’s farmers who want to export goods to Cuba. For nearly ten years, I have worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to expand American agriculture producers’ access to the Cuban market. Onerous credit rules and other federal government statutes and regulations greatly restrict U.S. agricultural exports that could otherwise strengthen our economy, while providing a nutritious, abundant, and affordable food supply to the Cuban people.

MLB and advocates of increased US-Cuba economic integration are now lobbying the Biden-Harris administration to free MLB from the embargo restrictions that scuttled the MLB-Cuba baseball agreement.

But the administration should not carve out embargo exceptions for billionaire baseball team owners without at the same time bringing relief to America’s farmers and ranchers. And do you know who should embrace that position? MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

There are no two institutions in America more “hand in glove” than agriculture and baseball. When baseball fans enjoy peanuts, Cracker Jack, hotdogs, and beer at any of the great ballparks in the major or minor leagues, they are supporting American agriculture. More to the point: Manfred, who works for the teams’ owners, should remember what owners do when their manager doesn’t win games. He needs to take strong action to fix his errors in Georgia.

First, he should put the All-Star Game back in Atlanta, and admit the League struck out when it took the side of one political party in a partisan attack. To paraphrase the great Michael Jordan, Republicans buy MLB merchandise, too.

He should also realign Major League Baseball with the larger interests of the American people.

I invite him to work with the bipartisan effort to bring American agricultural products to the Cuban people. That would help the league rise above the partisan fray and show the American people that baseball wants to strengthen our nation, rather than divide us further. He might even pick up additional congressional support for the league’s plans in Cuba (assuming MLB drops the provision that would punish defectors).

Strikeouts happen, but they need not define a player, or a commissioner. Rob Manfred surely knows that the player with the most strikeouts in baseball history is Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, none other than Mr. October. If the commissioner can successfully re-establish the league’s agreement with Cuba while winning administration support for expanded U.S. agricultural access to feed and clothe the Cuban people, perhaps Manfred can be the next “Mr. October.”

Crawford serves the people of the 1st District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tags Joe Biden Rob Manfred us-cuba trade

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