How did I miss this? Did y’all know that back in June American Star Vodka purchased the naming rights for the field at MGM Park? When I became aware of this fact, I just had to chuckle and slowly shake my head. As I explained in my first post, I am from Mississippi – a sixth-generation Mississippian, thank-you very much – but from upstate, where attitudes can be a little different than on the Coast. How different? Well for one thing, I don’t believe an alcoholic beverage would stand a chance of purchasing naming rights to a sports stadium, no matter how much money they offered.
A little history, if I may. I find that few people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast remember or ever knew that alcoholic prohibition lasted in Mississippi until 1966. That means all alcohol – beer, wine, liquor, you name it – was illegal everywhere in this state before that date. This was long after Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, ended Prohibition for the rest of the country. It took an upswell of protest from the hoi-poloi of the state after a famous raid of a country club in Jackson – with guys in suits and ladies in pearls being lead off to jail in handcuffs – for the legislature to meet and pass our first “local option” laws. Local option meant jurisdictions were allowed to decide for themselves whether to legalize alcohol, which led to the patchwork of “wet” and “dry” counties and cities you see to this day across Mississippi.
And then there was the Coast…which was…different. I have a friend whose father ran a bar on the Coast from shortly after World War II until he retired the 1980’s. When I pointed out to my friend that until 1966, that bar was technically illegal in the state of Mississippi, he objected strenuously. He said his dad’s bar operated openly, was very popular, and even paid taxes regularly. My friend said a sheriff’s deputy would come by every Friday afternoon to collect a cash “tax” from the bar owner, and that made it legitimate. Also, WLOX ran a story a few years ago celebrating the 60th anniversary of a local beer-distributing company, apparently unaware of (or overlooking) the fact that until 1966 that company was distributing an illegal product.
[As an aside I also remember travelling as a child to the Coast with my father on business, who worked for the newspaper in Jackson. I remember seeing slot machines in the lobby of the Broadwater Hotel, even though gambling was illegal in Mississippi until 1990.]
I should say here no one from upstate *really* ever complained about the alcohol on the Coast; it was to be honest one of the allures to visiting, which my family did just about every summer. I believe that by 1966 the hypocrisy was obvious and untenable to a majority of Mississippians.
A lot of these “dry” attitudes continue upstate. When I moved down here in the late 1980’s, I was struck by the branded liquor stores. Where I grew up, in the capital city Jackson, liquor stores where very understated, and did very little advertising. In fact, they didn’t even call themselves “liquor stores”. They were called “package stores”, I guess to denote package liquor, with usually a small sign by the door with just those words. The airport outside Jackson, embarrassed that it was stranded in a “dry” county, and found itself unable to offer even a beer to trans-state passengers, had to appeal to the legislature to obtain a special “resort” status.
So you can see with that history, and the differences between upstate Mississippi and the Coast, why I found it amusing that the field the local baseball team plays on, is named for an evil alky-hol.