Friday, June 25

Gov. Greg Abbott decries MLB’s dabbling in politics, spurns Texas Rangers’ invite to throw out first pitch

Updated at 6:06 p.m.: to add White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s comment.

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday sent a letter to the Texas Rangers declining the baseball club’s invitation to throw out the first pitch at the home opener in Arlington and assailing Major League Baseball’s adoption of “false political narratives” about Georgia’s controversial new election law.

Abbott also said he will no longer participate in any event held by Major League Baseball, and the state will not seek to host the All-Star game or any other MLB special events.

Abbott spokesmen did not immediately respond to a question about whether he’ll withhold state support for just this season or indefinitely. In the next five years, the Rangers hope to land an All-Star game for their new stadium. Also, Dallas has been a regular host for MLB’s winter meetings, the industry’s biggest official gathering of the year.

Abbott was reacting to Major League Baseball’s decision to move the league’s All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new election laws. Republicans such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the law, say it is needed to prevent voter fraud. However, voting rights activists and Democrats, including President Joe Biden, say the law’s intended to suppress minorities’ participation in elections.

“Major League Baseball adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about the election law reforms in Georgia, and, based on that false narrative, moved the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta,” Abbott wrote Rangers president and chief operating officer Neil Liebman.

“It is shameful that America’s pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives,” the governor wrote.

Among other things, the Georgia law requires applicants for absentee ballots to provide a driver license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or a copy of other acceptable ID, and do so again when they mail in their ballots. Currently, people sign an absentee-ballot application and sign the ballot when they mail it in. Also, the law essentially bans mobile voting centers, reduces the amount of time for requesting an absentee ballot and makes it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballots to all voters.

One provision makes it a crime for anyone other than an election worker to provide food or water to a person standing in line to vote.

Major corporations such as Georgia-based Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines have joined civil-rights leaders to object strenuously to the new Georgia law. But former President Donald Trump has urged Republicans to boycott both Major League Baseball and “all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections,” as he put it in a written statement Friday.

There has been no substantial evidence, however, that voter fraud was widespread enough to alter the 2020 presidential race’s outcome in Georgia or any of the other swing states where Biden eked out narrow wins.

In Arlington, Abbott had been scheduled to appear at the first pitch ceremony with frontline “heroes” from the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The Rangers quickly re-arranged things so that one frontline worker – a teacher – threw out the first pitch to another, a nurse.

Asked for its reaction to Abbott’s withdrawal, the Rangers said in a written statement, “We are focusing on today’s home opener at Globe Life Field. Frontline heroes will be participating in today’s ceremonial first pitch prior to the game.”

Throwing out the first pitch was Audrey Simmons, a teacher at Dunn Elementary School in Arlington. She tossed to Sydney Maxwell, a nurse with Medical City Healthcare. Also participating in the ceremony was Charlotte Crawford, a 40-year employee of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Crawford lost her husband, son and daughter to COVID-19. The crowd responded to the frontline workers with warm applause.

Abbott, who began his political career in Houston and is an Astros fan, expressed admiration for the Rangers. His daughter Audrey, who graduated from the University of Southern California last year, worked for the Rangers as an event coordinator from June until last week.

Asked if Audrey Abbott’s departure was related to the Georgia election-law controversy, gubernatorial spokeswoman Renae Eze replied, “No, she’s starting a new job. … She’s going to work for Universal Music Group” in Los Angeles.

In his letter, Greg Abbott said his boycotting of the Rangers’ home opener “does not diminish the deep respect I have for the Texas Rangers baseball organization, which is outstanding from top to bottom.”

The Rangers opened their 50th home season against the Toronto Blue Jays Monday afternoon, and trailed through eight innings.

The Rangers were the first U.S. pro sports franchise to welcome a 100% capacity crowd since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbott, who virtually rescinded all of his emergency coronavirus orders as of March 10, has tweeted with delight recently over the state’s decreases in infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 2,772 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas hospitals, the lowest number since June 15, according to state data. Monday brought three deaths and 837 confirmed new cases.

Still, fewer than 4.7 million of the state’s 29 million people have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 47,750 Texans have died from the virus. And four of the country’s top 10 metro areas hardest hit by the pandemic – in cumulative cases per 100,000 people – have been in Texas, according to a New York Times tabulation: Eagle Pass (No. 1), Laredo (No. 4), El Paso (No. 6) and Lubbock (No. 7).

Last year, all 30 Rangers home games were played without fans in the park because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While fans were permitted for the National League Championship Series and World Series, Monday’s game is the first at which fans will be allowed to attend a Rangers game at Globe Life Field.

The Rangers opened their ballpark to its full capacity of 40,300 for Monday’s home opener and required fans to wear face masks, except when actively eating and drinking. However, public-health experts have said the club’s mask mandate probably won’t be too effective, given that fans will be sitting in close quarters and doing a good deal of eating and drinking.

Last Wednesday, Biden questioned the Rangers’ decision to open Globe Life Field at full capacity on Opening Day.

“Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake,” he told ESPN’s Sage Steele. “They should listen to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it’s not responsible.”

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, asked if Biden has tried to dissuade other clubs from going to full house events, said she knew of no such conversations.

“The President continues to reiterate the need to follow public health guidelines,” she said. “There are restrictions recommended, including on masking [and] social distancing, which of course applies to having a full stadium, and the importance of being vigilant even while we’re at war with this virus. We have seen spikes in certain parts of the country, certain regions in the country. That’s something we’re closely watching.”

Sportswriter Evan Grant and Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman contributed to this report.

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