The Blog

Could MLB Teams Exit Cactus League Over Immigration?

Why should Major League Baseball shower economic largesse on a state that just passed a law intended to harass a third of its players and the fastest growing segment of its fan base?
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Fifteen Major League Baseball teams now make Arizona's Cactus League the annual home of their Spring training, setting up MLB as the national organization that in both visibility and economic impact, could perhaps play the biggest role in pressuring the state to repeal its repressive, unconstitutional and un-American new immigration law.

According to a 2009 report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, 27 percent of MLB players are Latino, by far the largest percentage of any American major league sport, while 28 percent of MLB players are foreign born. And in recent years, team marketing departments have embraced the Hispanic fans who have been driving up attendance at ballparks around the nation.

So why should MLB and its teams continue to shower such immense economic largesse on a state that just passed laws intended to harass nearly a third of its players and the fastest growing segment of its fan base?

When then-Gov. Evan Mecham revoked the state's recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1987, and Arizona voters failed to approve it at the polls in 1990, the National Football League struck back on behalf of its diverse roster by moving the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena. MLB's 2011 All Star Game is currently scheduled for Phoenix, and there is already pressure building for the league to make a similar gesture.

But the individual Cactus League teams don't need to wait for MLB to act. Las Vegas has been attempting to lure Spring training camps for years, and even the mere act of publicly pursuing such negotiations would send a shock wave through local, tourism-dependent economies across Arizona. Likewise, there are municipalities throughout Florida that would be eager to lure back a few teams who left the Grapefruit League for dryer climes.

Here in Seattle, nearly 10,000 people recently rallied just a few blocks from the Mariners' Safeco Field, demanding humane immigration reform... a crowd many times the size of the largest local teabagger protest (despite the lack of comparable press coverage). This is an issue that resonates with a majority of Washington's population, both economically and morally, nearly one in six of which are Latino or Asian and 12.3% foreign born. Immigrants comprise 14.2% of Washington's workforce, and pay 13.2% of state and local taxes.

By standing up now against Arizona's oppressive and offensive new law, Mariners' management and players would send a clear message to the fastest growing segment of their own fan base that they stand with them on this controversial issue, and that America's pastime will not bend to such profoundly un-American political sentiment.

And the same would hold true of nearly every other Cactus League team, with the sad exception, perhaps, of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

[David Goldstein blogs on WA state politics at]