Orlando Hudson has been the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ second baseman for the past three seasons; prior to that, he manned the Toronto keystone for four years, where he picked up his first of three Gold Gloves. In addition to his excellent fielding, he’s a solid offensive presence in the lineup as well, and is hitting .295/.354/.462 with a .276 EqA this season. David spoke to Hudson about the Negro Leagues, about the population of blacks in baseball both on the field and in the stands, and about being a role model for the black community.

David Laurila
: I understand that you’ve had an opportunity to meet Willie Mays. Is it intimidating to talk to a baseball legend like Mays?

Orlando Hudson
: Yes it was, very much so. He’s a guy who has done so much for not just baseball, but for blacks, too. He’s like another Jackie Robinson, both a tremendous man and an unbelievable player. Words can’t even describe what he did on the field, and they can barely describe what he did off the field.

DL: Have you ever imagined what it would have been like to play in the Negro Leagues?

OH: Definitely. It would have been fun. You’d see all these beautiful black women sitting at the games in their nice dresses; you’d see all the brothers in their best three-piece suits. It was an event then; now it’s just “we’re going to the game.” Back in the days of the Negro Leagues, even back when the white men were playing this game alone, you’d see everyone with their cigars and nice suits, and the women with their hats and dresses; now people come to the game with their shorts and flip-flops on. I could only imagine how it was back then. And the games were packed; every game was packed, both the Negro games and the caucasian games. Now we’re trying to get baseball back like it was.

DL: Gerald Earley, who teaches black culture at American University, has said that “black Americans don’t play baseball because they don’t want to. Baseball has little hold on the black American imagination.” What are your thoughts on that?

OH: Definitely. And I’m only repeating–this isn’t coming out of my mouth–what a great friend of mine, Gary Sheffield, said: “As a black man playing Major League baseball, you have to be a superstar to play in this game.” How many black bench players do you know? Can you name me one, Dave? Guys who aren’t playing every day? You see kids in other sports on TV today. You see LeBron James, a great individual, on TV; you see LaDanian Tomlinson on TV, a great running back who is a great kid and does all the same things I do, like fish and hunt; you see Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant on TV. But as big as Derek Jeter is, you rarely see him on nationwide TV. We’re not broadcasting our black players on TV. Jimmy Rollins, MVP: no commercials. Ryan Howard, MVP: no commercials. Gary Sheffield, future Hall of Famer: no commercials. So how are black kids supposed to want to be like us when we’re not broadcast on TV like the NFL football players are? I’ve heard young black kids say it: “You’re one of the few who have made it, but baseball is a white man’s game.” And I tell them all the time that there are absolutely so many black kids who could play this game. You look at college baseball and you might see one black person every fourth team. You see Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and out of those four teams you might see one; Fresno State, UCLA, Cal-Berkeley, and Stanford–same thing. So you might see two guys out of eight teams, and that’s with 25 on the roster of each team. So the kids look at the NBA, and they look at the NFL, which are predominantly black. You go to NBA games and you hear hip-hop music being played. You go to NFL games and you hear hip-hop music being played. You come to a Major League Baseball game and you hear the great Willie Nelson and some of his songs. So they’re not relating themselves with baseball.

DL: Do you see that as something that can change?

OH: We’re hoping so, but we don’t think it will change. We want to get more blacks in, and we have conversations with Spike Lee, because we know Spike Lee is a big baseball fan. Denzel Washington is a big baseball fan. We need people like that who can help us get the black communities around America to enjoy baseball more.

DL: Sport psychologist Harry Edwards has said that sports have a negative impact on African-American culture. Do you buy into that idea?

OH: You know what–we have somewhat put ourselves in that predicament, but if you think about it, blacks pretty much get pushed to the side of things anyway. That started back before either of us was born, or even before our grandparents were born. Blacks were already being pushed to the side. Athletically, if you look at it, we as blacks on the field look at the stands, and they’re predominantly white. If you go to a college football game to watch Florida State, the starting offense and defense are black; you look at the stadium and it’s white. Go to Miami and everybody is black, but if you go to the stadium, it’s white. We bring excitement to the stadium–we all know we have God-given talent to play sports; we do things. We have Vijay Singh in golf, who is another black man playing a white man’s game and doing his thing. There are the Williams sisters in tennis. Whatever we do, it seems like we dominate everything we play, but we pretty much get pushed aside even though we bring excitement to the park.

DL: There have been times this season when the Detroit Tigers have put a team on the field that included no white players; they were all African-American or Latin American.

OH: Yes, but who was in the stadium watching them? I’ve played in Detroit a lot, and there can be nine black players on the field, but mostly what you see in the stadium is white. You might see a few blacks, yes, but it’s mostly whites watching us do the things that bring excitement. Look at the Boston Celtics. There’s Ray Allen, who’s a friend of mine, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce–three African-Americans–and they pack the house with Caucasian people.

DL: Basketball is obviously a “blacker” sport than baseball. Would having more black players on the field increase the number of black fans in baseball?

OH: I think it would increase. Don’t get me wrong, we have done some things to stay on TV a lot. We have quite a few guys with DUIs, bar fights, and this and that, but just because one brother messes up doesn’t make the rest of the 100 brothers the same person–know what I’m saying? There have been a lot of white folks who have messed up, and they’ve gotten plenty of opportunities. They don’t get blown up on ESPN; they don’t get blown up on CNN. Take for example, Don Imus; he’s messed up twice already on a radio show. If that had been Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, it would have been no more of either of those two, and you know it just as well as I know it.

DL: You’re saying that there is a double standard?

OH: You know it; I don’t have to say it.

DL: You once said the following in an interview with USA Today: “The world would be a better place if JFK, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X were living.” Can you elaborate on that?

OH: JFK was a man of equal opportunity. He wasn’t one of those guys who just wanted to make sure that the white folks stayed richer and that they kept the black folks to the side. He walked the streets of Washington, DC, shaking people’s hands, and he gave a lot of blacks opportunities and looked out for blacks. I’m a big fan of history, so I love that. JFK was just a tremendous man of character with the way that he carried himself in the White House. That’s definitely a big position, because if you’re in the White House you’re leading this country. And he carried himself in that manner. Then you have guys like Malcolm X, who was pretty much to himself early, with, “I want my people, as black African-Americans, to dominate everything. We should do this; we should push the whites out because they pushed us out for so many years, and over the course of years have become stronger and stronger.” He talked to the honorable Elijah Mohammed, who had so much love and respect for JFK during that time, and Martin Luther King was trying to change his ways, saying that this is what makes you become a bigger man and a better person, making him think, “OK, let me get myself together so I can start associating with white men also, to see if we can stay together.” But before that time came, he was assassinated because he was becoming a very powerful brother.

But we all knew that the great Martin Luther King always said, from day one, that he wanted blacks and whites to one day hold hands and walk the mountains and the hills of Tennessee, and walk the streets of Alabama. He wanted all that mess in the South, the racism that still goes on–someday we’ll be dead and gone and racism will still be here as bad as it was–but he wanted us all to become as one where we don’t look at color and race. That’s the same way JFK was, he didn’t look at color and race. In the early part of Malcolm X’s career, he looked at race; he didn’t want to have anything to do with white folks; that’s the way he was. But he kind of knew that the day would come where times would get better, where black and white could sit in the restaurant together, where black and white could walk together, like it is now where they can be dating and getting married. But he was assassinated before that time. As a matter of fact, all three were assassinated before that time. So there were definitely some big things behind those true, tremendous, unbelievable, great leaders of this country who had to leave before their time because of maybe getting too big, because of too many people following them because of the way they looked at the world and wanted things to be. It was a shame, because the world would have become a better place had those three men not gotten assassinated.

DL: Any final thoughts?

OH: I just wish that we could get more black players into baseball, because we can absolutely play the game. Our forefathers loved baseball, and we’ve gotten away from it a little bit. I wish we could get more kids get into the colleges and doing their thing. We see a lot of black kids go into the NBA draft, and I’d like to see more black kids go into the MLB draft. I wish more black kids would stay in school. It’s kind of hard to stay out of the drug game and off the streets and away from the gangs, but it’s something positive to want to get more out of life than trying to make easy and fast money. It’s better to make it the right way and be a role model, especially to your kids and to your family and to your church members.

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