On November 23, the PAC for Major League Baseball donated $5,000, the maximum amount allowed, to Cindy Hyde-Smith who is running against Mike Espy in the Mississippi Senate special election runoff. By doing so, MLB walked right into a hot mess.
Hyde-Smith has been widely quoted as saying she’d willingly attend a “public hanging.” The fact that her opponent is an African American male makes this comment especially reprehensible. She also introduced a resolution supporting a Confederate soldier, because in her worldview, “he was defending his homeland”. And, oh, by the way, Hyde-Smith attended a segregation academy as a child to avoid public schools integrated at the direction of the United States Supreme Court in 1969. Not surprisingly, she’s also a fan of voter suppression.
Although the flood of protest over the contribution induced baseball’s lobbying arm to follow the example of companies like Walmart, Pfizer, and AT&T in asking for a refund, the damage has been done. And, it turns out MLB wasn’t alone in supporting Hyde-Smith. Charles B. Johnson, one of the owners of the San Francisco Giants, and his wife each gave the maximum amounts to her campaign. The Bay Area not being a bastion of white supremacy, San Franciscans may have a thing or two to say about the contributions.
Although Rob Manfred, the commissioner of MLB, spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about the length of baseball games, he has failed to proactively address an ugly undercurrent in and around the sport. Thanks to Yulieski Gurriel’s gesticular insult of Yu Darvish during the 2017 World Series and Josh Hader’s racist (and homophobic) tweets, it’s clear that the sport has a problem.
Even some broadcasters have succumbed to the ugliness. Last year former Phillies star and Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt actually suggested that baseball might be better off if the sport included only English-speaking players, according to the New York Daily News. Red Sox analyst Jerry Remy opined on air that Masahiro Tanaka shouldn’t be allowed to have a translator on the mound. Of course, he later said he regretted the remark, but the damage had been done.
To its credit, MLB has been guided by the “Selig Rule,” named after former commissioner Bud Selig, which requires that minority candidates be interviewed for high-ranking positions. Manfred has made his frustrations with the slow improvement in minority hiring known throughout the sport.
Locally, thanks, especially to the team’s general manager, the Padres’ organization, has experienced an influx of talent from Latin America. A.J. Preller has a background in scouting particularly in that region and is fluent in Spanish. During the 2016 to 2017 international signing period, the Padres spent $80 million on young Latin American players. The team’s top prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., was born in the Dominican Republic, and fans eagerly await his arrival in San Diego sometime next year.
In reality, baseball has not been a white man’s game since the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson had the courage to break the color bar on April 15, 1947. Currently, more than 40 percent of players are Latino, Asian or African American.
The sport has become a global game. The fact that players come from all over the world and in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and colors should be celebrated. The audience for the sport would grow exponentially if the league actually addressed the racial and cultural ugliness beneath the veneer and led a celebration of that diversity.