Just like that, the All-Star Game pride worn by the Atlanta Braves disappeared into the dustbin of history.
After wearing two uniform patches promoting the July 13 Midsummer Classic in Atlanta, the Braves quickly covered them over before their game in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon. The patches were also removed from team press releases – almost as quickly as Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred pulled the rug out from under the team Friday.
Exactly a week after Players Association executive director Tony Clark expressed displeasure with a new Georgia voting law that he felt restricted voting rights, Manfred used his unilateral power as Commissioner to strip Atlanta of the 2021 game.
Controversy erupted immediately, with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp defending his decision to sign the bill, several Atlanta-based corporations criticizing it, and many black players applauding the decision to move the game – even without a new site selected.
For the Braves, however, the decision impacts the city, the state, the team, and the people who work in and around the ballpark – not to mention fans who have already purchased tickets, hotel space, or plane reservations.
“I don’t know what to say about it. It just stinks,” said Braves pitcher Charlie Morton, who returned to the team this year on a one-year, $15 million contract after pitching in the World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays. “I’m disappointed for the Braves organization and those who are local who would have benefited seeing the influx of business and excitement in the area. It’s a bad situation.
“Some of [our] guys who are likely to be on the team, it would have been nice to represent the team in their home park. People would have been able to see what was done in the ballpark too.”
Morton, in its 14th season, began his career with the Braves in 2008 before he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. At 37, he’s now the oldest player on Atlanta’s roster, brought back to lend stability and postseason experience to a young pitching staff. None of the pitchers who appeared for the Braves in the 2020 playoffs had ever started a postseason game.
The 6-5, 215-pound New Jersey native, who has also pitched for the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, is the only pitcher to win four playoff clinchers. But he flashed that form only for four innings at Citizens Bank Park Saturday.
After blanking the Phils for four innings, he allowed a run-scoring single by rival pitcher Zack Wheeler and a two-run double by Rhys Hoskins. Morton also allowed a walk, a hit batsman, and a Jean Segura single on a 1-2 pitch. The run-scoring hits were little more than well-placed bloops.
“That’s just baseball,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whose 0-2 team has generated little offense in a ballpark usually concerned a hitter-friendly bandbox. “That’s why we keep coming back. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Wheeler not only pitched well, posting his ninth career game and first as a Phil with double-digit strikeouts, but also provided his own offense, coming up with the fifth multi-hit game of his career, which began with the Mets.
The Atlanta native, who throws right-handed but bats left-handed, began the game with a .150 lifetime batting average but that hardly mattered in the sixth, when he stroked a two-out RBI double against left-handed reliever Sean Newcomb.
On the mound, Wheeler fanned 10 in six innings on a sunny but brisk day and allowed a single base-runner: on a Travis d’Arnaud single with one out in the second inning. Morton matched him only for four innings.
“I wouldn’t say I’m exactly where I want to be,” Morton said via Zoom after the game. “I don’t think I’ll ever get to where I want to be. But certainly I’d like to work past the fifth inning. I was plenty efficient going into that inning.” Even though Braves relievers Newcomb and Luke Jackson struggled with their control in the middle innings, the game moved swiftly, consuming exactly two-and-a-half hours and thrilling a noisy pandemic-limited crowd of 8,582.
Winless and wounded, the Braves finish their opening series in Philadelphia on Easter Sunday, them head south to play a three-game series against the Washington Nationals before returning to Atlanta for their home opener April 9.
The Hank Aaron tribute planned to precede the All-Star Game will take place no matter where the game is held, according to the Office of the Commissioner. Aaron, a Braves legend and civil rights icon who died in January just short of his 87th birthday, was selected an All-Star 25 times, a major-league record.
Although the All-Star Game patch has been removed from the team’s jerseys, hats, and press releases, another patch remains on each uniform sleeve. It commemorates the 150th anniversary of the franchise, the oldest continually-operating team in baseball.
Atlanta has hosted previous All-Star Games in 1972 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and 2000 at Turner Field. This year’s game had been scheduled for Truist Park.