Dave Stewart hopes to bring MLB team to Nashville

In the fall of 2016, when Dave Stewart was fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks after serving as the team’s general manager for two seasons, he was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

“To be honest with you, I’m a bit relieved,” he said at the time. “Frankly, I have better things to do.”

Fifteen years prior, when the Toronto Blue Jays hired JP Ricciardi as general manager, passing on Stewart who had served as the team’s assistant general manager for three seasons, Stewart had been much more outspoken.

“They think the only people who can do these jobs are white people, not minorities,” he said.

Whether discussing MLB front offices or pitching rotations, Stewart has regularly spoken about the league’s persistent whiteness.

But in 2016, when Arizona kicked him out, there was no scathing rebuke for the Diamondbacks, nor any mention that with his ousting MLB would have no black general manager. Last month, in a small conference room in Nashville, Stewart finally clarified his muted response.

“The day I left there, my first thought of ownership came,” he said. “In fact, while I was doing it, all the time I was thinking, wait until I have my own team.”

In the years to come, he may have his chance.

Stewart was speaking at the headquarters of Music City Baseball, an investment group he is working with to bring a Major League Baseball team to Nashville. The group hopes to call their team the Nashville Stars, in honor of a semi-pro black league team. It would be the first majority black-owned club in MLB, and it would be led by Stewart.

Nicknamed “Smoke” for the power of his right arm, Stewart won World Series titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Blue Jays, with a dominating streak for Oakland in which he won four consecutive 20-win seasons. In his own words, he was regularly disrespected and rejected along the way – and that was before he even hit a coaching staff or front office.

His experiences as a pitching coach, executive and agent proved heartbreaking at times, but they also led to this potentially defining moment for baseball.

“There is no anger,” he said. “When I walk through the door, I’m disappointed most of the time. But then I get up and I’m fine. So my attitude went from being disappointed to, ‘What can I do today to be the best person I can be? And what can I do to be better than I was yesterday? And how can I help someone?

Eventually, he realized that the way to help the most people would be to change who makes the decisions in baseball, a sport where things often come down to who a person knows.

He offered himself as an example, saying he wouldn’t have gotten the job in Arizona had it not been for his decades-long friendship with Tony La Russa, his former manager who at the time was the officer in charge. head of baseball for the Diamondbacks.

“I know his family; he knows my family,” Stewart said of La Russa.

In 2020, Theo Epstein, the outgoing Chicago Cubs executive, acknowledged the flaws in this system, saying “the majority of people I’ve hired have similar backgrounds to me and look a lot like me.”

While Stewart cannot personally bridge relationship gaps between MLB executives and non-white job candidates, being the primary owner of a team would allow him to give those candidates a fair chance with his club – whether on the pitch, in the front office or in the ownership group.

But there’s no guarantee MLB will expand beyond 30 teams in the future, and while the Tampa Bay Rays and Athletics are currently pushing for new stadiums, there are options besides Nashville for them to settle if they choose to move.

As these situations unfold, Music City Baseball strives to achieve its goal of recruiting a team. John Loar, the group’s general manager who previously worked with Stewart in an effort to buy the Miami Marlins, said the group remained true to Stewart’s longstanding beliefs.

“Even in Miami, Dave’s core philosophy was black leadership and opportunity for black managers and executives, but also potential equity in the team,” Loar said.

Indeed, the desire to help people, especially black people, has been a constant line throughout Stewart’s career. He comes with a zeal that surprises those who remember the unwavering gaze that was his signature as a player – an approach that was the result of advice from Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, Stewart’s Black Ace mate. Gibson told him never to show emotion on the court, that visible frustration and elation could both be seen as weakness.

During his playing days, Stewart took Gibson’s advice. But changing times have brought increased responsibilities – and a different approach.

“Sometimes a few have to speak for the greatest number, to make things better for the greatest number,” Stewart said. “I’d much rather be the guy who got shot if it makes everyone feel good.”

Music City Baseball’s proposed site for a new stadium is on land controlled by Tennessee State University. This historically black college is in North Nashville, an area that has been both a source of pride and frustration for residents who feel they have been overlooked as Nashville earned its “It City” status. For Stewart, the proposed development is an opportunity to revitalize a community that reminds him so much of the East Oakland neighborhood in which he grew up.

Stewart remembers Sunday afternoons when he and his childhood friend Warnell Simpson would meet on his porch and discuss what they would do if they ever had a lot of money. “It’s crazy,” Stewart said. “Even when we were kids, the things we talked about were putting our money into the community.”

East Oakland was a pro-Blackness enclave that happened to be the home of the Oakland A’s. During baseball season, he and his cousins ​​would sneak into the Oakland Coliseum. They ducked into the right seats in the field, stunned as A-greats like Reggie Jackson and Bert Campaneris practiced batting.

When not at the Colosseum, Stewart was immersed in the culture of the time. Even though he was shaped by baseball, Stewart was shaped by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., by Malcolm X, and by the Black Panther party, which was headquartered in his hometown. “When you grow up in a black community, those are the things that gave us hope,” he said. “I wasn’t brought up in an environment where we talked about what’s against us or what we can’t do. What was against us in Oakland, you knew, because it was around you. You could see it.

Hoping to be a similar source of pride for East Oakland – which he has seen decline over the years – Stewart tried to buy the city’s 50% stake in the Coliseum site. He planned to create a mixed-use development that would provide economic mobility to the surrounding community as well as affordable housing and even a museum focusing on local black history. And none of that would have relied on the A’s being there. “I wanted to create a situation where East Oakland was a city within a city, where the people of East Oakland didn’t have to go downtown or San Francisco,” he said.

Stewart’s proposal was rejected by the Oakland City Council, which awarded the site to the African American Sports and Entertainment Group. Stewart says the group is too focused on sports and has made what he thinks are unrealistic promises to bring the NFL back to Oakland, with a WNBA team. Stewart said her group, which included her longtime romantic partner, sports agent Lonnie Murray, considered those options, none of which were likely to materialize.

“Sport shouldn’t be the foundation of a community, especially not our community,” Murray said. “Back when you had the Warriors and Raiders in Oakland, they didn’t provide full-time paid jobs to the community. It was additional income, seasonal, in concessions or car parks. How are you going to uplift and revitalize a community that is struggling financially and academically with more extra jobs that aren’t at living wages? »

While still caring deeply for the people of East Oakland, Stewart moved on. “What I did in the Oakland community is now what I have the opportunity to do in Nashville,” he said.

On May 16, Stewart, Loar and Alberto Gonzales, the former United States Attorney General and current chairman of the board of directors of Music City Baseball, had a meeting with commissioner Rob Manfred which Stewart said went wrong. went well. He said Manfred applauded the group’s commitment to diversity as well as the work they’ve already done to build the Nashville Stars brand (50% of merchandise sales benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum).

The response was promising, though it stopped before the promise that a team could eventually call Nashville home. Stewart insists that the development of North Nashville will happen regardless and that his promise to his people remains unwavering. He also knows that he has a lot of work to do to get to know the people of this community and convince them that he is looking out for their best interests.

“People said, ‘Well, good luck, I hope that happens,'” Stewart said. “My answer is, ‘I’ll get there.’ It’s not if it happens; it’s a matter of when it happens. I’m 65. This is my last big mission. It’s the last thing I get to leave and make people say, “This guy really cared about us as a community.”

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