Column: Many teams — including the Chicago Cubs — will look to replace Atlanta as the site of the 2021 All-Star Game. So why not have it at Wrigley Field?

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Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
·6 min read
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It’s a little bizarre that baseball is planning an All-Star Game in mid-July when the season started with the cancellation of the New York Mets-Washington Nationals series after several players tested positive for COVID-19. —

Everything is subject to change in the sports world until the pandemic is under control, so it seems futile to think about staging a big event at a time when most ballparks still are limited to 20-50% capacity.

But Commissioner Rob Manfred’s bold decision Friday to move the game out of Atlanta because of a voting law many believe will prevent people of color from exercising their constitutional rights has begun a mad scramble by cities and teams to be the new hosts.

Teams are reluctant to lobby for the honor so as not to step on Manfred’s message, but rest assured several have let MLB know of their interest, including the Chicago Cubs.

The likelihood of the Cubs landing the July 13th game appears remote for various reasons.

It would be easier simply to move it to Dodger Stadium, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are next in line with the 2022 game scheduled after their 2020 game was cancelled during the sports shutdown.

A sentimental pick would be Milwaukee, as MLB still plans to honor legendary slugger Hank Aaron at the game. Aaron, who died in January at age 86, began his major-league career in Milwaukee with the Braves, ended it with the Brewers and has a statue outside American Family Field. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett wrote a letter to Manfred on Friday asking for the city to be considered.

Kansas City also would be a perfect alternative with the Negro League Museum as a fitting host in a year when the Negro Leagues finally were recognized as a Major League. Unfortunately, GOP lawmakers in Missouri are trying to get more restrictive voting laws passed, so that might be a tough sell.

Baltimore, San Francisco and other cities are expected to put their hats in the ring, and if the primary requirement is being a state with progressive voting laws, either would suffice.

But the Cubs have been waiting for their turn to be named an All-Star site since the Wrigley Field renovation was completed two years ago. For one reason or another, they’ve been denied. The Cubs last hosted one in 1990, while the White Sox did so in 2003.

Obviously the Cubs would need Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s help, and coincidentally she was at opening-day ceremonies, even while being an admitted White Sox fan. It would be up to Lightfoot to lift the attendance restrictions in ballparks by July, and so far she has tended to be on the cautionary side of opening up the city, whether it’s shutting down the lakefront, restaurants, parks or stadiums. She also has other problems to deal with, including the carjacking epidemic.

Another question might be whether the owners of the Cubs, the Ricketts family, deserve to be rewarded with one of baseball’s most prestigious events. The racist emails of Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, are certain to be brought up from those opposing the idea of holding an All-Star Game at Wrigley.

Todd Ricketts, one of the three siblings who own the team, was finance chair of the Trump Victory Committee, raising funds for Donald Trump’s reelection bid. Trump’s loss in Georgia, a red state, and his spreading of falsehoods about alleged election fraud led to Georgia Republicans passing the new restrictive-voting law.

The Cubs would argue Joe Ricketts has nothing to do with the team and that Todd hasn’t had much to do with the actual running of the organization. Chairman Tom Ricketts and Laura Ricketts have been in charge for the last few years. Laura is an unabashed progressive Democrat, while Tom has for the most part stayed out of politics, although he supported Democrat Bill Daley in the Chicago mayoral primary Lightfoot won.

Tom and Laura Ricketts have supported protests against social injustice. Last year’s home opener at Wrigley featured a moment of silence and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and former team President Theo Epstein was one of the first MLB executives to voice his support of the movement in June, offering condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and saying: “Echoing my colleagues at the Cubs, I’m standing up (in support) of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protesters who are doing their best to make this a real inflection point in our history. At this moment in time, silence is complicity. It’s important that all of our voices are heard.”

Epstein resigned after the 2020 season and now works as a consultant to Manfred, who had a reputation as a follower of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell instead of leading on his own.

But Manfred now appears to be willing to take the first step, as he did in the All-Star Game decision. How much influence Epstein has had on Manfred is unknown, but when Manfred decided to pull out of Atlanta and said “fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” he chose a path he knew would have consequences with Republicans.

And that’s exactly what has happened.

“MLB caved to fear, lies of liberal activists and ignored the facts of the new election-integrity law,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Saturday. “MLB didn’t cite a single reason why they are moving. If we were making it less easy to vote and harder to cheat, then maybe there’s an argument for boycotts, protests and moving All-Star games. That is not what happened. Georgia is going to have secure and very accessible elections.”

The Cubs know this will be a divisive issue. Whatever team MLB chooses as the replacement site no doubt will draw criticism, so the Cubs might as well go for it. And if you’re looking to honor Aaron, of the remaining three ballparks he played in the most games was at Wrigley Field.

How ironic would it be if Chicago were chosen to replace Atlanta in spite of our city’s longtime image as a hot spot for political corruption? The phrase “Vote early, vote often” is a Chicago staple, as well known in these parts as the Empire carpet jingle.

But the days of Mayor Richard J. Daley are long gone, and while Chicago continues to elect shady characters, the ballot-box manipulation that’s part of our city’s lore seems to be in the past.

Hosting an All-Star Game in an iconic ballpark as beloved as Wrigley would be good for the city and game.

No place loves baseball like Chicago. And really, where else would you rather be this summer?

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