• Donald V. Watkins

How Valerie Abbott Killed MLB’s Youth Baseball Academy in Birmingham

An Exclusive Investigative Report


By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on May 6, 2019


Beginning on April 18, 2019, I published five articles about the City of Birmingham, Alabama’s loss of a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to partner with Major League Baseball (MLB) on the development of a $10 million Youth Baseball Academy in the city.


MLB’s Youth Foundation was set to fund the project at George Ward Park. It would have converted the five softball fields into four full-size baseball fields. MLB was also going to build an academy building on the site that would have provided low to no cost baseball and softball instruction and league play for children. In additional to the baseball curriculum, MLB’s Science of Sports would have also provided football, basketball and soccer programs for kids.


This was “a dream come true” for thousands of young children across the city. MLB was excited to host the Youth Baseball Academy in Birmingham and was prepared to showcase it around the world.


Residents in the predominantly white Glen Iris neighborhood objected to the project because it was located close to their neighborhood. They believed the Academy would attract too many black children and their supporters to the adjacent 100-acre George Ward public park.


Council President Valerie Abbot, who is white, lives in the Glen Iris neighborhood and represents the council district where George Ward Park is located. She controls the Birmingham’s black mayor and predominantly black city council with an iron grip.


Abbott’s constituents enjoy the degree of control and dominion she exercises over the mayor and council, and she does too. Local media groups, including The Birmingham News and AL.com, afford Abbott a courtesy form of media protectionism from public criticism because they share her values.


MLB was shocked and appalled that “benign” racism defeated the Youth Baseball Academy project in Birmingham, despite an 8-1 vote from the city council to move forward with the project. In light of the City’s foot-dragging on the project, its messy and petty politics, and the negative racial comments that were whispered during the City’s consideration of the project, MLB reconsidered the George Ward Park site and focused on a more welcoming community and site in Vero Beach, Florida.


Abbott Threatened to Report the "Fishy" MLB Baseball Academy Deal to Federal Law Enforcement Authorities


What has never been exposed publicly until now is how Valerie Abbott killed the MLB project. Abbott is accustomed to outthinking, outworking, and out maneuvering Mayor Randall Woodfin and most of her colleagues on the city council when it comes to matters that are important to her. She sees these officials as lazy, inept, and unprepared officeholders. Abbott also knows that Mayor Woodfin and most of the city councilors have no courage, substance, or vision for Birmingham.

Furthermore, Abbott knows that the city’s park board, which is headed by neophyte board member Montal Morton, is even weaker than the city council. Even though the park board supported the MLB project, it did not have the political will, intestinal fortitude, or business acumen to counteract Abbott’s strong opposition to the MLB project.


Armed with all of this inside knowledge, Valerie Abbott used a technique on the council and park board members that is as old as slavery in America. Abbott let it be known to some of her colleagues in City Hall that she thought something was "fishy" about the MLB Youth Baseball Academy project and that, if they kept pushing for the project at George Ward Park, Abbott was going to ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Birmingham to investigate the matter.


With this bold power play, Abbott killed the project. The supporting city councilors and park board members sprinted from the Youth Baseball Academy project like they were running in an Olympic track event. Mayor Woodfin, who only shows up for work at City Hall a few days per week, quietly abandoned the MLB project as soon as he learned of Abbott’s opposition to the project. She did not have to threaten Woodfin. It is well-known in Birmingham's business community that Woodfin is afraid of any kind of confrontation with the city's white business and political leaders.


Most cities would clamor for an opportunity to partner with MLB on a project of this quality and magnitude. This is the kind of partnership that usually leads to an endless series of positive experiences and projects with MLB.


However, Birmingham city officials quickly ditched a sports academy project that would have benefited tens of thousands of deserving children for generations solely because Valerie Abbott threatened to have a dozen or so scared blacks on the city council and park board investigated by federal law enforcement authorities.


Blacks Have No Effective Political Representation Inside Birmingham City Hall


The 1965 Voting Rights Act literally changed the face of Birmingham’s city government from all-white to predominantly black. Yet, black city residents today have no real voice or effective representation in city government.


Except for District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, the people who were chosen to represent the political interests of the city's black residents and businesses have consistently refused to stand up and aggressively fight for them on issues ranging from Mayor Woodfin’s open embrace of modern-day environmental racism in the Five Points West community, to the abandonment of economic empowerment opportunities for city businesses in connection with the construction and operation of the $174 million UAB football stadium, to the proposed $10 million MLB Youth Baseball Academy.


Instead producing tangible results that improve the quality of life for their political constituents, the city’s mayor and most of its black city officials tend to blame their failure to perform the duties of their offices on “white racism.” They always claim, in private, that this condition is beyond their control. In truth, there is no justifiable excuse for their persistent failure to aggressively and faithfully represent the political interests of their constituents.


The MLB Youth Baseball Academy project is dead, but Valerie Abbott's political grip on the city's mayor and council is alive.


PHOTO: Birmingham Council President Valerie Abbott killed the $10 million MLB Youth Baseball Academy project by threatening to have this "fishy" deal investigated by federal law enforcement authorities in Birmingham. Her threat scared all of the Academy's supporters in City Hall away from the project.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.