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Dave Stewart Hopes to Bring MLB Team to Nashville

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In the autumn of 2016, when Dave Stewart was fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks after serving because the team’s general manager for 2 seasons, he was uncharacteristically wanting words.

“To be honest with you, I’m type of relieved,” he said on the time. “Quite frankly, I’ve got higher things to do.”

Fifteen years before, when the Toronto Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricciardi as their general manager, passing over Stewart who had been the team’s assistant general manager for 3 seasons, Stewart had been much more outspoken.

“They think the one people able to doing these jobs are white people, not minorities,” he said.

Whether discussing M.L.B. front offices or pitching rotations, Stewart has been recurrently vocal in regards to the league’s enduring whiteness.

But in 2016, when Arizona pushed him out, there was no scathing rebuke for the Diamondbacks, nor any mention that, together with his ouster, M.L.B. would have zero Black general managers. Last month, in a small conference room in Nashville, Stewart finally clarified his muted response.

“The day that I left there, my first considered ownership got here,” he said. “Actually, while I used to be doing it, the entire time I used to be pondering, wait till I get my very own team.”

In the approaching years, he can have his likelihood.

Stewart was speaking within the headquarters of Music City Baseball, an investment group that he’s working with to bring a Major League Baseball team to Nashville. The group hopes to call their team the Nashville Stars, in tribute to a semipro Negro leagues team. It will be M.L.B.’s first majority Black-owned club, and it could be led by Stewart.

Dubbed “Smoke” for the facility of his right arm, Stewart notched World Series titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics, and the Blue Jays, with a dominant stretch for Oakland wherein he had 4 consecutive 20-win seasons. By his own accounts, he was routinely disrespected and discarded along the way in which — and that was before he ever made it to a training staff or front office.

His experiences working as a pitching coach, an executive and an agent proved heartbreaking at times, but in addition they led to this potentially game-changing moment for baseball.

“Chill out, all right? Don’t attempt to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”

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“There’s no anger,” he said. “After I walk out the door I’m disillusioned most days. But then I get on my feet, and I’m good. So my attitude has modified from disappointment to: ‘What can I do today to be the most effective person I could be? And what can I do to be higher than I used to be yesterday? And the way can I help any person?’”

Eventually he realized the method to help essentially the most people could be to vary who’s making the choices in baseball, a sport where things often come right down to who an individual knows.

He offered himself for example, saying he wouldn’t have gotten the job in Arizona if not for his decades-long friendship with Tony La Russa, his former manager who was the chief baseball officer of the Diamondbacks on the time.

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

In 2020, Theo Epstein, the departing top executive of the Chicago Cubs, acknowledged the failings with that system, saying “nearly all of people I’ve hired have similar backgrounds as me and look lots like me.”

While Stewart can’t personally bridge the connection gaps between M.L.B. executives and nonwhite job candidates, serving as principal owner of a team would allow him to offer those candidates a good shot together with his club — whether on the sector, within the front office or within the ownership group.

But there is no such thing as a guarantee that M.L.B. will expand beyond 30 teams in the long run, and whilst the Tampa Bay Rays and the Athletics are currently pushing for brand new stadiums, there are alternatives besides Nashville for them to settle should they select to maneuver.

As those situations play out, Music City Baseball works toward its goal of landing a team. John Loar, the group’s managing director who had previously worked with Stewart in an effort to buy the Miami Marlins, said the group is staying true to Stewart’s long-held beliefs.

“Even in Miami, Dave’s core philosophy was Black leadership and the chance for Black managers and executives, but in addition potential equity within the team,” Loar said.

Indeed, a desire to assist people, particularly Black people, has been a consistent through line of Stewart’s profession. It comes with a zeal that surprises those that remember the unflinching stare that was his signature as a player — an approach that was the results of advice from the Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, Stewart’s fellow Black Ace. Gibson told him to never show emotion on the sector, that visible frustration and elation could each be viewed as weakness.

During his playing days, Stewart followed Gibson’s advice. But changing times have brought increased responsibilities — and a distinct approach.

“Sometimes the few should speak for the numerous, to make it higher for the numerous,” Stewart said. “I’d much slightly be the guy that got shot dead if it makes it good for everyone else.”

Music City Baseball’s proposed site for a recent stadium is on land controlled by Tennessee State University. That historically Black college is in north Nashville, an area that has been each a source of pride and frustration for residents who imagine they’ve been ignored as Nashville achieved its “It City” status. For Stewart, the proposed development is a chance to revitalize a community that reminds him a number of the East Oakland neighborhood he was raised in.

Stewart remembers Sunday afternoons when he and his childhood friend Warnell Simpson would convene on his front porch and discuss what they’d do in the event that they ever had an incredible deal of cash. “It’s crazy,” Stewart said. “At the same time as kids, the things we talked about were putting our money into the community.”

East Oakland was an enclave of pro-Blackness that just happened to be the house of the Oakland A’s. Through the baseball season, he and his cousins would sneak into Oakland Coliseum. They hid out in the suitable field seats, gobsmacked as A’s greats like Reggie Jackson and Bert Campaneris took batting practice.

When he wasn’t on the Coliseum, Stewart was immersed within the culture of the times. As much as he was shaped by baseball, Stewart was molded by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by Malcolm X, and by the Black Panther party, which was headquartered in his hometown. “Whenever you grow up in a Black community, those were the things that gave us hope,” he said. “I wasn’t raised in an environment where we talked about what’s against us or what we are able to’t do. What was against us, in Oakland, you knew it, since it was around you. You possibly can see it.”

In hopes of being an identical source of pride for East Oakland — which he has seen decline through the years — Stewart attempted to buy town’s 50 percent stake within the Coliseum site. He planned to create a mixed-use development that might provide economic mobility for the encompassing community in addition to inexpensive housing and even a museum focused on local Black history. And none of it could have hinged on the presence of the A’s. “I desired to create a situation where East Oakland was a city inside a city, where the East Oakland residents didn’t should go to downtown or to San Francisco,” he said.

Stewart’s proposal was denied by the Oakland City Council, which awarded the positioning to the African American Sports and Entertainment Group. Stewart contends that group focuses too heavily on sports and made what he believes are unrealistic guarantees about bringing the N.F.L. back to Oakland, together with a W.N.B.A. team. Stewart said his group, which included his longtime romantic partner, the sports agent Lonnie Murray, looked into those options, neither of which had any likelihood of coming to fruition.

“Sports mustn’t function the inspiration of any community, especially not our community,” Murray said. “On the time that you simply had the Warriors and the Raiders each in Oakland, they didn’t provide full-time living wage jobs for the community. That was supplemental, seasonal income, in concessions or parking. How are you going to uplift and revitalize a community that’s struggling financially and academically with more supplemental jobs that aren’t at living wages?”

While still caring deeply for the people of East Oakland, Stewart has moved on. “What I even have been doing within the Oakland community is now what I even have a chance to do in Nashville,” he said.

On May 16, Stewart, Loar, and Alberto Gonzales, the previous U.S. Attorney General and currently the chair of Music City Baseball’s board of directors, had a gathering with Commissioner Rob Manfred that Stewart said went well. He said Manfred applauded the group’s commitment to diversity in addition to the work they’ve already done to construct the Nashville Stars brand (50 percent of merchandise sales profit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum).

The response was promising, even when it stopped wanting a promise that a team could eventually call Nashville home. Stewart insists that the north Nashville development will occur regardless and that his promise to his people stays unwavering. He also knows that he’s got a number of work to do to get to know the people of that community and to persuade them that he’s looking for his or her best interests.

“People have said, ‘Well, good luck, I hope it happens,’” Stewart said. “My response is, ‘I’m going to make it occur.’ It’s not if it happens; it’s a matter of when it happens. I’m 65 years old. That is my last great mission. That is the one last item that I get a chance to depart and have people say, ‘This guy really cared about us as a community.’”

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