Abbott declines Texas Rangers' first pitch, citing MLB removal of All-Star Game from Georgia

Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman

Gov. Greg Abbott declined an invitation to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener Monday afternoon, citing Major League Baseball's decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia's new election law.

Abbott complained that pro baseball officials were pushing a false political narrative by criticizing the Georgia law as a voter suppression effort instead of, as Republicans see it, a bid to improve election integrity.

"It is shameful that America's pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives," Abbott told Neil Leibmann, the Rangers' chief operating officer, in a letter the governor released publicly.

Gov. Greg Abbott declined to toss out the first pitch at Monday's home opener for the Texas Rangers to protest Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star Game and draft from Atlanta over Georgia's new voting law.

Abbott added that he will not participate in any future MLB-sponsored events and that the state would not work toward hosting the All-Star Game "or any other MLB special events."

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The backlash against Georgia's voting law is being closely watched in Texas, where Abbott and fellow Republicans are pushing legislation to increase criminal penalties for election fraud, beef up vote-by-mail restrictions and requirements, and ban drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling places, among other strategies.

Democrats and civil rights groups say the efforts have nothing to do with election integrity, instead seeking to make it harder on those who tend to oppose Republicans and their priorities, including voters who are young, are minorities or have a disability.

Abbott said he had been looking forward to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Rangers' home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays until baseball opted to move the July 13 All-Star Game and the major league draft, to be held in conjunction with the Midsummer Classic, from Atlanta.

State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, head of the House Democratic Caucus, said efforts to change voting laws in Texas and Georgia are based on a different false narrative — the "Big Lie" that election fraud snatched victory from President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

"No one cares if Abbott throws out first pitch, but Arlington/DFW will def care if he interferes in efforts to attract economic opportunities like All-Star games," Turner wrote on Twitter.

In announcing the sanctions against Georgia on Friday, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said the action was "the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport."

"Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," Manfred said. "Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support."

Republicans have been fighting back, including Trump, who late Friday called for a boycott of the most vocal opponents of Georgia's voting law, from baseball to leading corporations.

"Boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck," Trump said in a statement. 

"Don’t go back to their products until they relent. We can play the game better than them," the former president added. "The Radical Left will destroy our Country if we let them."

"No baseball for me this year," said Allen West, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. "I loved baseball when it was about baseball."

West equated baseball's move to the NBA placing a "Black Lives Matter" logo on basketball courts last season. "We just wanna watch basketball, not be forced to look at Marxist organizational propaganda," he wrote Monday in an email to supporters. "When does it all stop?"

West decried the opposition from big business.

"When did these fascist corporate oligarchs come to believe they are in control in Texas, or in America? We didn’t elect them," he said.

In Texas, American Airlines, Dell Technologies and Microsoft also have been vocal in their opposition to GOP election bills, saying they would diminish voting rights and create unnecessary barriers to casting a ballot. 

With Abbott's absence, the first-pitch duties at Globe Life Field in Arlington fell to the "frontline heroes" of the pandemic who were scheduled to accompany Abbott to the pitcher's mound.

Audrey Simmons, a fifth-grade science teacher from Dunn Elementary in Arlington, made the ceremonial toss, which was caught by Sydney Maxwell, a nurse at Medical City Healthcare, Rangers spokesman John Roberts said.