Momentum is building behind efforts to pressure Major League Baseball to boycott Arizona over its un-American new immigration law, and as much as I’d love to see our Seattle Mariners take the lead in standing up for the rights of the Latino players and fans who are so important to the sport, it turns out that it is the Chicago Cubs who are in the best position to make an immediate and lasting impact.
The Cubs have been a mainstay of the Cactus League for more than half a century, since long before Arizona had pretensions of rivaling Florida for Spring training dominance. And while the number of Cactus League teams has recently surged to 15, the Cubs are still by far its biggest attraction, accounting for 22 percent of the league’s ticket sales, and injecting over $138 million annually into the Arizona economy along with an estimated 1,600 local jobs.
And yet the Cubs, at the end of their lease, and playing in the league’s most antiquated facility, are struggling to get the same kind of public/private financial commitments that have drawn a half dozen other MLB teams to Arizona over the past decade. With both the state and Mesa governments unwilling or unable to put up the money, and the other Cactus League teams roundly opposing a “Cubs Tax” to pay for a new $119 million complex, the Cubs are now being seriously wooed by a group of Naples Florida investors seeking to lure the team’s lucrative Spring training to that state’s Grapefruit League.
Which of course puts Cubs management in the perfect position to both strike a blow on behalf of social justice, while improving their own bargaining position.
And such a principled stance would be well suited to a team with 15 foreign-born players on its 40-man roster, hailing from a state where immigrants comprise 13.6% of the population, and immigrants and their children a full 26%. Illinois is now home to over 700,000 Mexican immigrants, the state’s largest immigrant group, and the obvious target of Arizona’s odious new law.
So given these circumstances, there are few teams in MLB with better reasons to voice their opposition to Arizona’s racist immigration law, and no team in a better position to do something about it.
I know there are those who object to sullying baseball with politics, but these self-proclaimed purists just don’t know their history. Baseball was at the forefront of institutionalized American apartheid in the post-Reconstruction era, and again at the forefront of desegregation 70 years later. There is no question amongst historians that Jackie Robinson’s performance on and off the field contributed significantly to the civil rights movement, and laid the groundwork for desegregation nationwide. There is also little question that the Dodgers profited handsomely from Branch Rickey’s dismantling of baseball’s color barrier.
The Chicago Cubs now have an opportunity to make history too. They are both the biggest draw in the Cactus League and the team best situated to make good on a threat to leave the state.
America’s pastime can and should take a stand against Arizona’s un-American immigration law… legislation that specifically targets both its players and its fans. And it’s time for Cubs fans to urge their team to lead the way.