Remembering Jackie Robinson

April 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm 1 comment

Sixty-one years ago today, Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League. Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues and is justly celebrated for doing so. Members of current big-league rosters, including three representatives of the Boston Red Sox, will wear Robinson’s retired number 42 today.

It is right that major-league baseball recognizes Robinson, and yet it seems that the big leagues — and the Red Sox — can do more. Stories in the Boston press referencing the Red Sox tribute can note that the Robinson anniversary of April 15 comes a day before a more odious anniversary — that of April 16, 1945, when the Sox staged a sham tryout for three African-American players (including Robinson) at Fenway Park. Pressured by Boston city councilor Isidore Muchnick and sportswriter Wendell Smith, members of the Sox front office watched three potential pioneers … and then did not sign them. Even worse, instead of becoming the first major-league baseball team to integrate, the Red Sox became the last (in 1959, when Elijah “Pumpsie” Green took the field at Fenway).

A few parting points: First, the media acts arrogantly when it claims that Robinson broke the color line for all of baseball. Media members imply that the only legitimate system of professional baseball in the US in the early 20th century was the all-white major leagues, but during those decades, Negro League teams also earned respect and fans. Because they did not survive the integration of the American and National Leagues, the media’s memory evaporates concerning the Negro Leagues. Why doesn’t organized baseball celebrate the first white player to play for a Negro League team (Eddie Klepp, Cleveland Buckeyes, 1946) as much as it celebrates Robinson’s belated debut?

Secondly, one critique of the Red Sox for their delay in signing African-American players is that had it done so, it might have broken the Curse of the Bambino sooner. This does not get at the reason why it was wrong for the Sox to postpone signing an African-American player: It ought to have been about justice, not about winning. Players deserve consideration for a spot on a major-league team based on performance, not on their background. Was Ernie Banks any less of a ballplayer because he never won a World Series? The focus of media members and fans should be on fairness here.


Entry filed under: Baseball, boston red sox, sports. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Katy Widrick  |  June 12, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    My company does video news stories on great people with awesome attitudes — they don’t get much better than some of the Negro League players who broke barriers in baseball!

    You can see a video we did at MLB’s recent symbolic draft of Negro League players, which includes Millito Navarro, Peanut Johnson, Charley Pride and Bill Blair as well as Ken Griffey and Dave Winfield.

    I hope you enjoy it!

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