Baseball Executive Dave Stewart

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Earlier this year, Music City Baseball announced that Major League Baseball All-Star Dave “Smoke” Stewart would lead its Diverse Equity Ownership Initiative for a potential franchise, the Nashville Stars. The initiative is a model for ownership in MLB going forward.

“I’ve been in baseball in one way or another for 45, 46 years,” he said. He was a player for 16 of those years, going on to coach, then on to the role of minor league director, then to assistant general manager and, finally, general manager. In that process, Stewart said he had the opportunity to observe the environment around him from different angles. And he saw that people that looked like him– or anyone nonwhite, for that matter – weren’t in the rooms where decisions were being made. 

Even in his leadership positions, he said he didn’t have the ability to make decisions that had an overall impact.

It made for an awkward and denigrating situation, he recalled, and he knew his next steps had to lead to ownership.

“The game of baseball, when it comes to diversity … it’s not been a sport that has, in my opinion, always put their best foot forward,” Stewart said. The murder of George Floyd caused what he said was a windfall of “steps forward” affecting even the sports industry. Some changes have been made since then, he intimated, but things haven’t changed enough. The spirit of the moment, that revelation of an historically-unbalanced power dynamic, hasn’t been reconciled properly.

Still, Black and Brown leadership positions are dismally rare. With the exception of the L.A. Angels’ Arte Moreno, there are no Black- or Brown-owned franchises in MLB, and Moreno has been in talks to sell the team. Further, out of 30 general managers, only the Houston Astros’ Dusty Baker and the L.A. Dodgers’ Dave Roberts are Black. Kenny Williams, Vice President of the Chicago White Sox is the lone Black representative in baseball at one of the highest positions, Stewart added.

White executives have given television and newspaper interviews acknowledging their tendency to hire people who look like them because it’s more comfortable. This bias leads to minorities being all but shut out of leadership roles and helping make decisions that affect them at the lower levels of the industry.

“If minority ownership is going to happen, we are probably in a period of time right now to make it happen,” Stewart said. “When people are talking about progression in the sport and opening their doors and opening their arms for minority and Black ownership, then now would seem to be the time to address that, and so here I am. I’m in a position now to be able to accomplish that and I’m trying to put together a group of minority/Black and diverse ownership to be involved in baseball at its highest levels.”

Stewart said the Nashville Stars is a large, expensive business, and it’s important that Black and Brown children see themselves not just in the players on the field but at the table with other administrators, making the management decisions.

“My dad always told me, ‘Never say anything about yourself that you don’t want to be true,’” Stewart recalled.

Representatives for MCB said Stewart “will identify a collective of high-net-worth investors for joint ownership, prioritizing minority investors. This marks a step forward in Nashville’s pursuit to secure an MLB team through either expansion or relocation, which is planned to be named the Nashville Stars” and “while the league has not made any decisions regarding expansion or relocation to Nashville, the effort to focus on a diverse ownership structure mirrors MLB’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

MCB’s press release said the team name is a nod to the Negro Leagues teams that played in Nashville in the 1940s and 1950s and that Stewart will hold true to spirit of their legacy by continuing the ongoing partnership with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

“We’ve added an ace to our pitching staff in this important effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville,” said Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and a Board member for MCB. “In this new role, he will break down barriers in MLB ownership and create a better, more equitable future for the sport. Dave embodies the true spirit of the Negro Leagues, not only in how he played the game, but also in the way he’s helped grow our game through his contributions as a coach, agent and executive – all reasons we inducted him into our Hall of Game in 2019.”

Stewart wants North Nashville to know MCB intends to make them part of the process.

“The vision for the Nashville Stars is the future of the game. My focus is to honor former Negro Leagues players and bring Black and diverse voices to the table,” said Stewart. “Nashville is giving Major League Baseball the opportunity to do something that has never been done before. It’s time to make history.”