I’m sure had I met Cyn Marsh before I was introduced to baseball, she would have been my first love.
But I didn’t. And although she is my ride or die today, she wasn’t my first love. I would not meet the future Mrs. Harvey until 22 years later.
My uncles Paul and John introduced me to the game of baseball one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1956. The adults took the kids outside to work off a delicious after-church meal of fried free-range chicken, mashed potatoes, butter beans, corn bread, and fresh blackberry cobbler. We used an old broomstick for a bat and a red rubber ball. It was about the size of a baseball.
My first two swings were swings and misses. Someone, I think my uncle Paul, took my last swing because two decades before major league baseball instituted the Designated Hitter rule, our family pick-up games had a Substitute Batter rule. This rule allowed an adult to serve as the substitute batter anytime one of the smaller kids had two strikes on him or her. He hit the ball and I ran to first base. At 4 years old, I was hooked and in love with the game of baseball, my first love.
This love affair ended for a period after my senior year of college. I was, to say the least, disappointed I was not signed by any of the major league baseball franchises. I was, in the teenage parlance of the day, “stood up” by my true love.
I stayed away from the game for 20 years, only returning when my son came along and wanted to learn the game of baseball. Today, as a member of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame Legends and Pioneers Committee (this committee vets Black College baseball players from 1887–1975 for induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame) most of my interest in the sport of baseball today is limited to Black College Baseball, which in name, is becoming a bit of a misnomer as more and more white and Latino players are filling out the rosters of Black College baseball teams.
Before the war between the states, baseball — or a reasonable facsimile of it — was played by Africans living in America. They continue to play and enjoy this game, but their numbers among the 30 major league franchises are few, perhaps about eight percent of all major league baseball players. That’s a far cry from the number of African Americans playing in the first 20 years after Jackie Robinson signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Club, breaking the “old gentlemen’s agreement” among professional baseball owners not to employ Black baseball players.
As Black Americans have again been pushed out of major league baseball in the 21st century, teams have made no secret of their desire to cater their teams to white suburban and Latino fans. A case in point, the Atlanta Braves Baseball Franchise recently moved their stadium out of downtown Atlanta to the more affluent Cobb County suburb. The franchise said at the time, they wanted “to be closer to their fan base.”
To be fair, since 2000, MLB has created several urban baseball academies on the mainland to increase the number of African Americans playing on the major league level. This summer, the Atlanta Braves held the first 44 Baseball Classic (named in honor of Hank Aaron), where they invited 44 Black high school baseball players to participate in a professional style workout.
While athletes in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have been outspoken on the issue of police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system, very few major league baseball players have broached the subject. One explanation for this fact is that there are very few Black Americans playing professional baseball. Any brave soul would stick out like a sore thumb and likely would be ostracized out of the league like Colin Kaepernick, who has been essentially blackballed from the NFL. Given the paltry numbers of Blacks in the league, a similar player might not be missed, and in a few years, hardly any fan would remember that he ever played the game.
With the absence of a clear African American presence in major league baseball, it comes as little surprise then that the Office of The Commissioner of the league’s Major League Baseball’s Political Action Committee donated $5,000 this November to Cindy Hyde-Smith, a candidate with concerning rhetoric about lynchings, who is running for a US Senate seat in Mississippi.
According to Federal Election Commission Form 6, Hyde-Smith disclosed that the Commissioner’s PAC made its contribution on November 23, 2018. That means the four-figure donation came a week after knowledge of Hyde-Smith’s now widely-discussed public hanging remarks were made known.
It was in reference to a Tupelo, Mississippi, fundraiser who also was willing to aid her campaign when Hyde-Smith cheerfully said earlier this month: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’ll be on the front row.”
According to the NAACP, no state had more lynchings between 1882–1968 than Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith is an unapologetic southern confederate heritage buff. As a state senator, the Republican introduced legislation to rename a state highway after Jefferson Davis, the man who served during the Civil War as President of the Confederacy. She is currently serving out the unexpired term of Thad Cochran in the US Senate. Cochran resigned in the spring due to health concerns.
Hyde-Smith is locked in a heated run-off with Mike Espy. The Democrat is vying to become the first Black Senator from Mississippi since Hiram Revels (1870–1871). Revels’ appointment to the US Senate enabled the state of Mississippi to be readmitted to the United States following its succession from the USA and the defeat of the Confederate States of America. His appointment made history as no African living in America had ever held a seat in the US Senate or the House of Representatives prior to February 25, 1870.
If elected, Espy will make history of sorts. He will be the first descendant of enslavement heritage to be elected US Senator from Mississippi. Under laws that existed in the US Constitution in 1870, Revels, like all senators, was appointed to his post by the state legislature.
Espy’s election, like Revels’ appointment, could usher in a new era of race relations in Mississippi, removing the stain of her hurtful past during the eras of enslavement, post-reconstruction, Jim Crow and segregation. It’s worth noting that Espy is no stranger to history. The Yazoo City, Mississippi, native is the first African American to be the Secretary of Agriculture. It’s a post he held in the 1990s during the Bill Clinton administration. Before that, he served four terms as a member of Congress from Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.
Why then would Major League Baseball get involved in this campaign, financially endorsing a candidate who seems to run antithetical to the societal progress it has attempted to champion for more than 70 years? This donation appears to support a time of professional baseball pre-Jackie Robinson instead of offering to help foster a more perfect racial union in post-Barack Obama America.
It’s anybody’s guess why baseball would give this support. After all, Hyde-Smith serves on the following committees: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies; Legislative Branch; and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Granted, I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, but albeit, I’m hard-pressed to discern what any of these committees have to do with the business of major league baseball.
The Commissioner’s Office could have very easily stayed on the sidelines of this raging political war for the soul of Mississippi.
American citizens of African descent were immediately offended by Hyde-Smith’s callous reference to public hangings given Mississippi’s sordid history of hanging Black people in public during that particularly murderous aforementioned 86-year period. The public hangings, for white people, were public entertainment where families would gather with picnic baskets full of food and drinks to watch the mutilated body of some poor Black soul swing from a tree way passed the time of death.
From Reconstruction and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, there were 581 documented public hangings in Mississippi. More than in any other state in the nation. God only knows how many private hangings took place during this period.
There is nothing amusing to Black Americans about attending a public hanging or being reminded that no matter how much times have changed, there is not a single African American family who has not had a family member hung because white men once had the power to lynch any Black man or woman whom they perceived as a threat to the system of white supremacy and white superiority.
What will Major League Baseball do next to ensure that our society grows into something more than it has ever been rather than regressing back to the dark ages of public hangings to prove the point that it is the southern heritage way, or it is the hangman’s noose way?
“Hi, Debra. Completely understand your concern. Sen. Hyde-Smith’s recent comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates. As a result, we are withdrawing our support and requesting a refund of all campaign donations,” tweeted Walmart in response to a tweet from Debra Messing (@splng_giants), who tweeted that Walmart had made their donation after Hyde-Smith’s cavalier “public hanging” remark.
Also, Union Pacific, Leidos and Boston Scientific have asked the Hyde-Smith campaign to refund a combined $12,500 contributed to support her neo-conservative views in the US Senate.
A total of $126,550 was reported on Hyde-Smith’s 48-Hour Notice of Contributions/Loans Received on her FEC Form 6 filing made on Nov. 24. A tidy sum to run a modest get-out-the-vote campaign for the run-off set to occur two days from this reporting.
It was not surprising to find notable financiers on this report like Regions Financial Corporation PAC, Koch Industries, Inc PAC, Ernst & Young PAC, and Daniel, Douglas, Maria, and Pamela Devos, but to find the Office of The Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC amongst these paragons of conservatism is stultifying.
With the run-off election two days away, as of this writing, it does not make any difference to demand a refund of baseball’s contribution to the Hyde-Smith ethos, which MLB did on Sunday, a few days after making the controversial donation.
Now that the contribution has been made, it is not enough for MLB to simply ask for the money back. There must be repercussions for the lobbyist who attended a Hyde-Smith campaign function and convinced the PAC that despite her insensitive remarks, the Commissioner’s office should help her win this senatorial seat.
Moreover, MLB should step-up efforts to develop more African American talent in the front office, in the managerial and coaching positions as well as the players on the field. Not to mention in the ranks of the lobbyist firm that lobby Congress on behalf of MLB.
Now is the time, MLB must make it clear that it rejects the politics of the unrepentant South, that despite the low number of African Americans on major league rosters, it supports a diverse society where equality is the order of the day and not front row seats to a public hanging akin to the days when white Southern men showcased terror before their womenfolk to prove they could, at will, usurp power from people of color.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org