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MLB asks for the return of its $5,000 donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith

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UPDATED at 8:46 AM

Over weekend, Major League Baseball created a firestorm of controversy for itself when it made a $5,000 donation — the maximum donation allowed under the law — to Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. The donation, which was made on November 23, was first reported by Judd Legum of Popular Information. Charles Johnson, part owner of the San Francisco Giants has also made a donation to Hyde-Smith.

The donation was controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.” She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

Major League Baseball’s donation, coming after Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments and actions, created an immediate backlash once it was discovered last night. It was such a big backlash that, by 8:30am this morning, MLB asked for the donation back. MLB’s statement, first reported by Buster Olney of ESPN:

“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend. MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”

Given how political donations work — you have to write a check to the campaign committee by name — there is no reasonable way to read this other than (a) MLB’s lobbyists happily cut the check to Hyde-Smith not giving a rip about Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments; and (b) the moment this hit the news they realized how big a deal it was to people and are now scrambling to control the damage.

The most charitable explanation that doesn’t track like that would be that MLB lobbyists just give signed, blank checks to fundraisers and have no idea where the money goes. I don’t think that makes it much better, but I suppose we’ll hear about that soon.

 

Below is the story as it appeared at 7:20AM this morning, before MLB’s request to have its donation returned was made public:

In 2002 Major League Baseball formed a political action committee. Like a lot of PACs, it makes substantial donations to candidates. Like a lot of PACs that are more business-oriented than pet cause oriented, it tends to spread its money around to both Republican and Democratic candidates, with the level of its donations to each party varying with the political winds. I haven’t taken a close look at this for a while, but back in the 2012 cycle, for example, about 75% of the MLB Commissioner’s PAC donations went to Republicans. From what I’ve seen so far this cycle, it has broke more in favor of Democrats, at least as far as sitting members of Congress go.

Whichever way the partisan lean goes, baseball — like a lot of businesses — tends to avoid controversy or controversial candidates with its donations. Which makes the news that broke last night rather surprising: the MLB PAC donated the legal maximum — $5,000 — to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from Mississippi ahead of her special runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. A day earlier she received a  donation from San Francisco Giants part-owner Charles B. Johnson.

This is controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.”

She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

But not Major League Baseball. Baseball donated the maximum to her after the controversies, with the donation being made on November 23. Rob Manfred has not yet explained why the league’s PAC has seen fit to give Hyde-Smith money in light of all of this, but given the anger and agitation I’ve seen about this just since I woke up this morning and saw the news, my sense is that he had better explain himself pretty damn quickly.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.