April 15, 2007

#42

In honour of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut, a number of players are wearing his #42 today, including every member of the Dodgers, Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies and Pirates.

Coco Crisp, David Ortiz, and third base coach DeMarlo Hale were set to wear #42, but today's game was postponed.

This is a great idea -- and I commend both Ken Griffey Jr. and Bud Selig for their respective efforts to get it going -- but something has always bothered me when baseball announcers talk about Robinson.

When discussing his career, Robinson is always referred to as having "broken the colour line" in baseball. That's true, but no one truly explains what the colour line was. We are supposed to know about it already -- though if no one talks about it, how will newer fans learn?

No one says how impenetrable the "line" was, the pure hatred that fueled its decades-long existence, how the owners and general managers of every team in baseball banded together and refused to sign any black players. Robinson's debut is presented as antiseptic and, with very few exceptions, absolutely no context is given. Such as how it would be 12 years before every team had at least one black player on its roster; the Red Sox were the last team, in 1959.

Here is some context.

(Laura (who also wrote about Robinson today (echoing some of the same thoughts (we've talked about this before)) tells me that Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo mentioned the tribute Friday night. Remy praised Robinson's courage in "doing what he did", but that was apparently as close as he got to telling us what Robinson actually did. Which wasn't close at all.

Why is it avoided? It has to be a conscious decision. Are people simply uncomfortable telling us these facts? It's an ugly history, but it should not be ignored simply because it was ugly and shameful.

Without offering the necessary context, it sounds as though the colour line existed because of lack of talent, not rampant racism. It's as though when Robinson came along in 1947, well, finally, here was a black player good enough to play alongside the whites. As though the major leagues would have had many black players for years, but none of them had had the necessary skills to reach the pinnacle of the sport. This was an excuse offered pre-1947. The commissioner insisted (truthfully) that there was no rule banning blacks, trying to make people believe there wasn't an understanding among all teams to never sign a black player.

I should point out that not all coverage sidesteps the issue. On ESPN's game last Sunday, Jon Miller said straight out that black people had been systematically "excluded" from the major leagues.

Jim Becker covered Robinson's debut for the AP:
It was a time in our country when in many places blacks couldn't stay in the same hotel as whites, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same movie theaters or even drink from the same water fountains in the South. ... There was no rooting in the press box, but many of us in it that day, like Robinson, had served in the Armed Forces and had just helped to defeat Hitler and thought it would be a good idea to defeat Hitlerism at home.
And that's another thing. No one talks about what Robinson went through after April 15, 1947. The death threats, the separate hotels, restaurants, etc. And what about the other National League teams, one of whom (the Cardinals) threatened to go on strike if Robinson remained in uniform? Then there were the slurs from fans. Earlier this week, Coco Crisp said he still hears racist comments when he is on the field.

MLB wants to make today a celebration, though of course it was the institution of MLB that created and nurtured the Jim Crow conditions that prevented so many black players from playing major league ball.

Maybe the coverage today will touch on some of this history. Jon Miller will likely do so again tonight. I'd be curious to know if anyone hears anything.

46 comments:

David Cho said...

Red Sox the last team to integrate? I thought Boston was always one of the most progressive cities in America.

What was his name and what was life for him? That must have been a pretty big milestone.

redsock said...

I thought Boston was always one of the most progressive cities in America.

Um, no. Not in the 20th Century.

What was his name and what was life for him? That must have been a pretty big milestone.

Pumpsie Green. A very nice guy, from what I have read, but not much of a player. I think he was signed more as a show of doing something rather than for his talent. The owner of the Red Sox from about 1930-1976 -- Tom Yawkey -- was quite a racist.

BTW: Jackie Robinson tried out for the Red Sox before playing for the Dodgers. The Sox were not serious, though, it was just a farce.

Legend has it that someone (maybe Yawkey) yelled from the grandstand at one point: "Get those niggers off the field."

Howard Bryant's book "Shut Out" is a great look at Boston and race and baseball.

redsock said...

The Red Sox also had a shot at Willie Mays, who is easily among the top 5-8 players to ever play the game.

I think Boston's southern scout told the club that he went to check Mays out and that he wasn't much of a player. Turns out he never went to see him at all. Just didn't bother.

The Red Sox could have had Ted Williams and Willie Mays in the same outfield for about 8 years. I can barely conceive of how great that would have been.

David Cho said...

Sounds like it was just window dressing. Get the worst possible black player and when it doesn't work out, just say, hey we tried.

Loved the DVDs, BTW. I panicked because the first one's audio for some reason did not play on my computer, but it's fine on the DVD player. I don't know what the story is. All other DVDs play fine on my computer.

Which one of the backup singers did he end up marrying? Say from the first one SLN cut (Gotta serve somebody), can you point out to which one? There were four and one of them was a guy, IIRC.

redsock said...

Get the worst possible black player and when it doesn't work out, just say, hey we tried.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Also, I think a lot of teams had one black player, maybe two, for a long time. And at first, they had to be stars. No team would carry a bench player or marginal pitcher who was black. They had to be undeniably great.

...

Dylan had a relationship with a woman who sang with him, but I don't think he married her. Not sure if she was on that tour. I'll email you with I learn.

Woti-woti said...

With baseball, it was more of a Red Sox thing, than a Boston one. Sam Jethroe:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Jethroe

broke in with the Boston Braves in 1950. Also, the first African-American to get regular playing time in the NHL was Willie O'Rea, who broke in with the Bruins in the early '60's. He did some time with the Bruins' top minor league team--the Kington Frontenacs, of the now defunct Eastern Professional Hockey League. Not that either re-writes Boston's racialist past; the busing riots of the late '60's, early '70's attesting to that, in addition to Redsock's excellent sources.

L-girl said...

Red Sox the last team to integrate? I thought Boston was always one of the most progressive cities in America.

David, see if you can find anything online about what happened when Boston public schools were ordered to integrate.

L-girl said...

the busing riots of the late '60's, early '70's attesting to that

Oops, didn't see that before I posted.

I'm glad to hear that about the Boston Braves and the Bruins. I didn't know about either.

Hockey, now that's another story...

redsock said...

Looking at the list of participating players, the only white guy (I think) wearing the number not on a team where everyone is doing so is Jim Thome of the White Sox.

Good for him.

redsock said...

I'm disappointed that only two Sox players were going to wear 42.

L-girl said...

I'm disappointed that only two Sox players were going to wear 42.

I was too. I was surprised and disappointed that more white players didn't want to do it.

Here I thought Thome was a redneck. I may just have to drop my grudge against him.

9casey said...

redsock said...
I'm disappointed that only two Sox players were going to wear 42.


Some people do not think they worthy of wearing the 42 .Garret Anderson for one said he wasn't worthy....

I think if I was a player I wouldn't wear it either after all wasn't it most of my ancestors that kept Jackie out of baseball.

The amazing fact is that the red sox and yankees only have one african -american on their rosters.

I also believe of 732 players only 60 are african-american....

Sean said...

Boston was also the first team with a black head coach, so try not to say we're like Alabama, ok?

As for there being a relative paucity of african americans on MLB rosters, it's a serious issue, but certainly not part of any great plan. It's easier to play pickup football or basketball than a full game of baseball, and so that's at least the given reasoning.

L-girl said...

I think if I was a player I wouldn't wear it either after all wasn't it most of my ancestors that kept Jackie out of baseball.

That might be a great reason to wear it. To say, "this ends here".

The amazing fact is that the red sox and yankees only have one african -american on their rosters.

How do you figure? You are only counting American-born players? Because I'm pretty sure David Ortiz would not have been allowed to play pre-Jackie either - too dark. Same for Manny and any other darker-skinned players.

L-girl said...

As for there being a relative paucity of african americans on MLB rosters, it's a serious issue,

I don't think it's a serious issue. As long as no one class of person is not being excluded, then I can't see how it's a problem.

I want to see more African-American coaches, managers and front office people, but I think great progress has been made, and more is coming. (I think, hope.)

Woti-woti said...

I'm still trying to digest this, but it took Buffy and Tabler 5 innings to figure out that it was Craig Monroe, not Marcus Thames, in left field for the Tigers. Apparently, Thames' name was in the lineup given to them but Monroe was a last minute sub. Both were wearing 42. Monroe batted twice, with camera close-ups of his face, and both times they talked about a key hit that Thames had yesterday. I wonder if 2 white guys of similar build are wearing #42 the same mistake goes 5 innings before it's noticed? When they admitted their error, they blamed it on the lineup card/#42 confusion without further comment.

L-girl said...

so try not to say we're like Alabama, ok?

No need to be like Alabama. It's enough just to be Boston.

9casey said...

l-girl said:
That might be a great reason to wear it. To say, "this ends here".


What ends here?
Lgirl said:
How do you figure? You are only counting American-born players? Because I'm pretty sure David Ortiz would not have been allowed to play pre-Jackie either - too dark. Same for Manny and any other darker-skinned players.

The first Cuban played in
1911
First Columbian in 1902
The first Dominican in 1956
First Mexican in 1933....

All considered minorties in this country.......

This wasn't a minority thing it was a black thing.

L-girl said...

What ends here?

I just meant if you were a player, and you felt your ancestors had been part of the bigotry, you could make a statement by wearing #42, as a way of saying, I support equality, I support integration. Kind of like, although my ancestors may have contributed to that system, I do not.

This wasn't a minority thing it was a black thing.

You're right.

But I'm not pretty sure (although not positive) that a man who looked like Papi would not have been welcomed in the Majors. No matter what language he spoke or country he hailed from, he would have been in the Negro Leagues.

Carlos Delgado, for example, although Puerto Rican, would have been thought of as black.

I think this is the case, because they are so dark-skinned. I could be wrong.

redsock said...

There is no way in hell someone like Tizzle would have been allowed to play.

I do not believe the "He's not black, he's Cuban" line would have worked.

I have read no quotes from Thome, but I'm willing to bet he's wearing 42 to acknowledge and honour Robinson's achievements and place in baseball history.

L-girl said...

>>no one class of person is not being excluded,

>>But I'm not pretty sure

I seem to be having a problem with my negatives today.

You all knew what I didn't not mean, no?

redsock said...

The first Cuban played in 1911
First Columbian in 1902
The first Dominican in 1956
First Mexican in 1933....

All considered minorties in this country.......

This wasn't a minority thing it was a black thing.


I'd like to see photos of these guys. I wonder how dark-skinned they were.

The 1918 Red Sox had a Cuban-born player: Eusebio Gonzalez. He went 2-for-5 in bits of three games.

His nickname? Papo!

Woti-woti said...

Sorry to interrupt folks, but the mighty Marco Scutaro just hit an 0-2 pitch for a walk-off, 3-run homer off Mariano Rivera (#42). (Is MLB-EI cool?).

redsock said...

Here is a page of the first player from many countries.

First Canadian? Bill Phillips, May 1, 1879, Cleveland Blues

redsock said...

Mar-co!
Mar-co!
Mar-co!
Mar-co!
Mar-co! ...

L-girl said...

First Canadian? Bill Phillips, May 1, 1879, Cleveland Blues

1879 doesn't count! Modern era, please. First Canadian?

* * * *

Every time I see something like that about Mo, I find a part of myself that hasn't completely died.

Hasn't completely not died n't.

redsock said...

Casey:

Garrett Anderson also said this:

"It wasn't my idea, and I'm not the type of person to jump on the bandwagon because someone else is doing something. If I did it just because someone else was doing it, it would seem kind of empty to me."

I can only imagine the uproar of Barry Bonds had said this. (Bonds was the only Giant to wear 42, by the way.)

L-girl said...

(Bonds was the only Giant to wear 42, by the way.)

I think there's a neat connection between Bonds's #25 and Robinson's #42. Willie Mays chose 24 as a tribute to Robinson's 42. And Bonds wears his godfather Mays's number plus one.

I know I've read this in a few places, but now I can't find any confirmation of it. If it's true, I like it.

redsock said...

210 Canadians have played MLB.

Modern era? I guess it would be a tie between Win Kellum and Larry McLean. Both debuted on April 26, 1901.

The only MLB player born in the wonderful city of Mississauga? Pitcher Shawn Hill, debut June 29, 2004.

(Hey, Stubby Clapp is also from Canada!)

L-girl said...

The only MLB player born in the wonderful city of Mississauga? Pitcher Shawn Hill, debut June 29, 2004.

Whoo-hoo! Go Shawn!

I'm surprised we don't read about him daily in The Mississauga News.

9casey said...

Ken Griffey I believe asked first and then others also wanted to do it....

You don't have to wear 42 on your back to respect and honor Jackie Robinson....I sound like Danny Kaffee

redsock said...

Also Canadian: Reggie Cleveland, pitcher for several teams, including the 1974-77 Red Sox (and 1/3 of an inning in 1978).

redsock said...

Further to the "Would Ortiz Be Allowed To Play?" question:

Where the player was born (Cuba, DR, USA) makes no difference.

White guys from Ireland were a-okay. Black guys from the USA were not. This was not a ban on players from Africa, for example. It was a ban on players who clearly had dark/black skin.

It's possible that a black player could pass for white, if his skin was light enough and his facial characterics did not "look black".

redsock said...

Here is a picture of Cuban-born pitcher Dolf Luque. He pitched from 1914-1935.

Wikipedia: "As a blue-eyed, fair-skinned, white Cuban, [Luque] was one of several white Cubans to make it in Major League Baseball at a time when non-whites were excluded. Between 1911 and 1929 alone, seventeen Cuban-born Caucasian players played in the Major Leagues."

Interesting. White men from Cuba.

redsock said...

Wikipedia on the color line:

"On May 28, 1916, Jimmy Claxton temporarily broke the professional baseball color barrier when he played one game for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Claxton was introduced to the team owner by a part-Indian friend as a fellow member of an Oklahoma tribe. Within a week, a friend of Claxton revealed that he had both African American and Native American ancestors, and was promptly fired."

"Prior to the integration of the major leagues, the Brooklyn Dodgers spearheaded the integration of the minor leagues. Jackie Robinson and John Wright were assigned to Montreal, but also that season Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella became members of the Nashua Dodgers in the class-B New England League. Nashua was the first minor-league team based in the United States to integrate its roster after 1898."

redsock said...

A list of the first black players in Major League Baseball by team and chronological order: here.

L-girl said...

You don't have to wear 42 on your back to respect and honor Jackie Robinson

Of course not. But on this one day, it's a nice gesture, is all.

L-girl said...

Interesting. White men from Cuba.

Latinos can be any colour of the rainbow. Latin America is a big mix of European (Spanish), African, Carribean and Native American people of many nations.

We might hear "Cuban" and think dark-skinned. Jose Canseco is Cuban, for example. He is as light skinned as I am.

It's possible that a black player could pass for white, if his skin was light enough and his facial characterics did not "look black".

That's the point, IMO. That's why a man like David Ortiz is connected to Jackie Robinson.

Sarah Gates said...

Yeah, about the skin color of players from Latin America pre-Jackie, when Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida were called up from the minors to play for Cincinatti, the front office required them to bring notarized paperwork from the Cuban authorities stating that they were of unmixed white blood. These guys wren't dark skinned at all - they're the first and third guys here.

No way would we have Papi.

L-girl said...

I just posted this on wmtc, but I guess I should cross-post here too.

I just came home from work and put on the ESPN game (it's been taping).

ESPN's Stuart Scott is interviewing Don Newcombe.

Newcombe was the first African-American to win 20 games in the majors, the only player to win the Cy Young, the MVP and ROY awards. He was sometimes spoken of as the possible first black to play in the ML.

He's talking about how he never could have done what Jackie did, about how Jackie's background (college, California) prepared him in a way that his own background in NJ never could have. He's also talking about Martin Luther King Jr coming over his house for dinner!

I'm so glad I've been taping the whole game. Some of the interviews and tributes might be very good.

L-girl said...

the front office required them to bring notarized paperwork from the Cuban authorities stating that they were of unmixed white blood.

Sarah, great historical tidbit. If you're up for a little cut and paste, the folks reading my blog would be very interested, too.

redsock said...

when Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida were called up from the minors to play for Cincinatti, the front office required them to bring notarized paperwork from the Cuban authorities stating that they were of unmixed white blood.

All evening, I was thinking about something I had found while researching my book (I don't think it is in the book, though).

But I couldn't remember the details. I also thought Luque was involved and couldn't remember what the players had to "prove". I thought fans showed up at the train station to "check them out". (Maybe they did.)

Your info is 100% correct. Plus the Reds were run by the NL president. Just a tad fucked up.

I wonder if I have some xeroxes of articles in The Sporting News about this.

Thanks for posting this!

9casey said...

Redsock you find this helpful


http://washingtonhistory.org/wshs/columbia/articles/0302-a1.htm

redsock said...

Thanks!

"Cueto likes his groceries."

9casey said...

Sarah Gates said...

No way would we have Papi.
Yeah, but thank God we do....

Do you think in 20 years this will still be talked about the way it is today?

I mean when does it go away....The hurtful feelings they must have felt......And knowing they felt it because some rich white men made them feel it......

It will never be a level playing field because numbers suggest otherwise......

It to me isn't about racism in todays society it is about anger and hurt.....

And you don't have to be any specific race to feel that......

L-girl, I read that post on your site about the plane.......And that hurt me.....

As corny as it sounds are biggest problems dont revolve around race as much as the hurtful things people to do each other every day......

Words are just words they mean nothing without the intent to harm or really make someone feel like shit.

People are people , That is what I try to tell my children every chance I get...

The thing that sucks that there are bad ones......

And what Jackie did was phenomal because no one broke his spirit to play the game he loved.


Thats the gift and the memory people should be talking about..


Not the color of his skin....

This generation has come some of the way ......lets see how the next one does......

L-girl - If me and my wife were there with you that day at the airport....My wife would have slapped that bitch for you......

Good Night

L-girl said...

Do you think in 20 years this will still be talked about the way it is today?

I think we always have to talk about history. It's the only way to learn. For me that's the whole point in remembering Robinson and what he (and so many others) went through.

And what Jackie did was phenomal because no one broke his spirit to play the game he loved.

Thats the gift and the memory people should be talking about..

Not the color of his skin....


But we should never forget that it was people's hatred of the colour of his skin - and nothing else - that put him in that situation.

L-girl - If me and my wife were there with you that day at the airport....My wife would have slapped that bitch for you......

Thank you! :)

You are very kind, but really, I wasn't hurt by that. People like that are too stupid to be hurt by - and she doesn't know me, nothing she can spew is going to touch me in any real way. It was just so friggin annoying!!!

Hey, I didn't know you ever read wmtc. :)