Most people already know the high profile numbers. The 2011 All-Star Game is currently scheduled to be played in Phoenix, an event that is said to be worth $150 million to Arizona's economy. It is certainly not too late to reschedule this game.
In addition, 15 of Baseball's 30 Major League teams conduct their spring training in Arizona's Cactus League. As of 2011, all 15 of those teams will be within 45 miles of each other in the Phoenix area, and all will be in Maricopa County, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Each of the Cactus League Teams plays roughly a 32 game schedule, half at their home complex. The Cactus League accounts for over $350 in spending into Arizona's economy. One team, the Chicago Cubs, as the linked article points out, attracts incredible numbers of tourists and is single-handedly responsible for 30 percent of that revenue.
But Major League Baseball is not about taking moral and political stands.
Here's why they it's in their economic interest to do so.
The owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks is acting today like a victim:
The team's vice president for communications, Shaun Rachau, [said] that the organization doesn't believe that targeting the team is fair. He [released] the following statement:
"Although D-backs' Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick has donated to Republican political candidates in the past, the organization has communicated to Boycott Arizona 2010 leader Tony Herrera that Kendrick personally opposes (Senate) Bill 1070. The team also explained that Kendrick is one of nearly 75 owners of the D-backs and none of his, nor do the other owners', personal contributions reflect organizational preferences. The D-backs have never supported (Senate) Bill 1070, nor has the team ever taken a political stance or position on any legislation."
Poor, poor, Diamondbacks. You might think that just the presence of the Latino ballplayers on their team might make them sit up and take notice.
According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport(pdf), in 2008 Latinos comprised 27 percent of all major league ballplayers. So, lets see. 30 teams; 25 player rosters most of the time, not counting for injured players, etc, so that's 203 Latino players in the major leagues. Now, obviously, those players are distributed among the various teams, many of whom will never see Arizona. Still, perhaps 6 or 7 members of the Diamondbacks active roster, on average (without looking at names or backgrounds) would be at risk. Not to mention, since those individual live in Arizona, several presumably would have families being placed at risk due to having to live there. Possibly there are children at risk of having a parent being arrested for no good reason.
But, you say, these are the affluent of our society. Surely they can manage their affairs in order to avoid problems, or at least be given the tools by their ballclubs/employers in order to avoid such problems. Maybe. Clearly they shouldn't have to, but that's not the topic today.
Let's go back to Spring Training. And by "Spring Training", I mean that there's a lot more going on than just the 30-odd games that each team plays in minor league-sized stadiums with ever-increasing ticket prices. It's not just the 55 highly paid players (with a few prospects and has-beens) competing for one of the 25 spots on a major league roster. There is another, quieter facet to the annual ritual.
Away from the bright lights, each major league organization is also conducting a spring training camp for its minor league players. And in many ways, this is a much bigger deal than the major league camp. The major leaguers, by and large, number 55 at the start, are weeded down to 25 by the end and, for the most part, live on their own in condos or upscale hotels.
Not so much for the minor leaguers. First of all, there are a lot more of them. Each major league organization has four minor league teams that begin their seasons at the close of the regular spring training. That's over 200 players per major league organization who show up initially for minor league spring training. Many players who don't make the cut stay behind through April and May, for extended training. In June, at the close of the school year, an additional group of players, newly drafted out of high school or college, together with more freshly-signed international players (who are not subject to the domestic player draft) arrive to train and compete for spots on two more teams that begin play in late June.
That's a whole lot of players, many of whom, quite naturally, are Latino. But these are not men who are well-adept at keeping to themselves like the big-leaguers. These are kids, aged 18 (or younger!) to 24, mostly. The vast majority have never been away from home before. The vast majority never received a signing bonus and, because salaries don't begin until Opening Day, are living exclusively on a very tiny per diem and an occasional dinner with an agent.
Spring training for these kids is much more than learning about baseball. It's about growing up. They are housed at places like Motel 6, Best Western, etc, an entire team organization in one hotel. I frequently stay in one such hotel during spring training. The kids are fun and nothing but polite, but you can tell they are young and carry the inexperience of youth. One day I overheard a dressing down of the players over their conduct at breakfast. Bed checks are conducted, hotel staff are paid to watch for unauthorized late-night "visitors" to player rooms.
In short, those kids, and that's what they are, represent the most vulnerable to the worst of what the Arizona law has to offer. They wander off the hotel grounds, and immediately become suspect. They even have a party in their room and they become suspect.
They also represent, to put it baldly, a huge investment for the future of the major league team. To put it another way, the major league teams have it squarely in their own best interests to protect these players. It is shocking to me that a team like the Arizona Diamondbacks could so blithely cast aside the notion that they would "take a political view." This is why Major League Baseball has no choice but to pressure Arizona in any way it can, starting with the All-Star Game.
But there's more.
Of the 15 Cactus League teams, 14 are locked into long-term contracts with their communities, that make it virtually impossible to consider leaving Arizona.
The one that's not is the big one, the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are locked in a negotiation with the City of Mesa and the State of Arizona over financing for their new facility. A deal appeared to be done, when Commissioner Bud Selig stepped and decided he didn't like the plan, so right now nothing appears likely to pass the legislature by the contractual deadline of July 12. After that date, the Cubs are free to leave as early as the end of the 2011 spring season. And make no mistake, there is a group in Naples, Florida, licking its chops at the possibility.
Personally, I would abhor the idea of the Cubs moving to Arizona. I have invested many, many years in Arizona spring training and developed a sizeable network of friends and other contacts whom I value greatly. But frankly, I can't imagine why the Cubs or any other team would want to risk exposing its young players to this law, and the Cubs are the team with the best opportunity to do something about it. I know I don't have much of a voice here, but in this case, for the Cubs and for all of MLB, doing the right thing coincides with doing the economically sensible thing.
The Cubs must push back, must again raise the spectre of leaving for Naples and make repeal of SB1070 a central part of their negotiation with Arizona. And MLB must look into what can be done on behalf of the other Cactus League teams. MLB must show it's serious by removing the All-Star Game.
If Arizona doesn't back down, and fast, this will spread.