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Baseball’s Hypocritical Racists

July 27, 2020

I love baseball. Most baseball fans are wonderful people. Baseball fans are like Country music fans.

What kind of music do you like?

I like all kinds of music.

What about country?

Okay, I like almost all kinds of music.

The Country music fan is much more tolerant than most music lovers. He’ll listen to your Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce, and also listen to Toby Keith and Miranda Lambert. Country music fans are tolerant.

Baseball fans are the same way. We’ll watch the Super Bowl. We’ll watch the US Open. We’ll watch the NBA Championship. We’ll even watch NASCAR and MMA. But, we’ll also spend three hours watching 9 guys standing around trying to hit a ball with a stick.

So, why am I calling out my fellow baseball fans as racists? Because they have an opportunity to show their true colors, and they aren’t measuring up.

Baseball has started up again. We will get 60 games and an expanded post season. It’s a far cry from a normal 162 game season. With the start of the shortened season, baseball has made a lot of changes. They’ve implemented the DH, the Designated Hitter, in both leagues. They’ve extended the number of hitters a relief pitcher must face from 1 to 3. They’ve changed extra innings to start with a guy on 2nd.

Oh, and one more thing, Major League Baseball, MLB, has embraced Black Lives Matter, BLM. Each team has chosen how to support the cause. The Red Sox displayed a large banner on the Green Monster. The Houston Astros drew BLM in the dirt in the back of the pitcher mound for their opening game against the Mariners. Some teams have kneeled prior to the playing of the National Anthem and then stood for the Anthem. Other’s kneeled during the Anthem. The Mariners raised a fist during the Anthem. Other teams have included a “Black Lives Matter” patch on their uniform.

Black Lives Matter is not a movement without controversy. Some BLM groups have published goals that not everyone agrees with. Not everyone is appreciative of the BLM protests.

Reading the message boards of many teams and you will find comments such as,

Quit with the politics and just play baseball.

If they participate in these protests I won’t watch anymore.

Why does it have to be about race?

All lives matter, not just black lives

The comments go on and on. And these people consider themselves baseball fans. True fans.

They don’t know anything about the history of baseball. Not really.

In 1947 the season started on April 15. That day a player took his spot at first base and changed the game forever.

The player was Jackie Robinson. He would go on to win Rookie of the Year. He was slightly older at 28. But, it wasn’t he ROY award that changed the game. Even though the Rookie of the Year award was started in 1947. Robinson’s speed made him a natural shortstop. But, the Dodgers had Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, so Robinson moved to 1st Base. And it wasn’t his new position that made him noteworthy.

What made him unique was the color of his skin. As any baseball fan knows, Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. The last black player to play in what we know as the Majors was Moses Fleetwood Walker. He was chased out of baseball in 1884. Baseball, like the rest of the country became segregated. Blacks played in the Negro leagues, whites played in the Major Leagues.

A man named Branch Rickey who was president of the Brooklyn Dodgers organzation signed Jackie Robinson to a Major League contract. And just like that the color barrier was broken. . .and they all lived happily ever after.

Well, not quite, but more on that in a minute.

Fifty years later, April 15, 1997, a player named Ken Griffey Jr, the son of a Major League player, asked the commisioner, Bud Selig, if he could wear Jackie Robinson’s number 42 instead of his own 24 for a game. It was significant because that was also the year that Jackie Robinson’s number was retired in all of baseball. Nothing like that had ever been done, before or since. No one would ever again wear number 42 as their uniform number.

Ten years later, April 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Majors, Ken Griffey Jr again had an idea. He asked Bud Selig if he could again wear the number. Selig liked the idea. In fact, he liked the idea so much he made it a rule throughout all of baseball. On April 15 each year, every player, every manager, every coach, every batboy, everyone in uniform would wear number 42.

It’s one of my favorite baseball traditions. It’s called Jackie Robinson day. The TV broadcasts on that day show everyone in the same number. When you consider that Baseball’s Rookie of the Year award is also now the Jackie Robinson award, and he was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee and you can see that Jackie Robinson is one of the most honored men in the history of baseball. He has earned his place among the greats of the game.

But, it wasn’t always that way. His introduction to the league was anything but welcoming. First off the 15 other baseball owners voted to exclude blacks from playing. Fortunately for Branch Rickey, the new commissioner Happy Chandler, overruled them.

Not all the players on the Dodgers were happy to be playing with a negro. Some of the players circulated a petition to have him kicked off the team. Instead, manager Leo Durocher arranged to trade the one most opposed, Dixie Walker.

Opposing pitchers threw at him. He led the league in hit by a pitch. Some clubs threatened to boycott games against the Dodgers. Ben Chapman, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies was one of the worst offenders. He and his team showered Robinson with racist taunts. Some of the players used their bats to pantomime shooting at Robinson, and especially unnerving tactic to use on a combat veteran. Robinson also received numerous death threats.

Robinson was not only a great player. He was a great man. He knew that had to accept the abuse and play through it without fighting back. Instead he did his hitting on the field. He finished fifth in MVP voting and of course, won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award.

So, let’s get back to my original point. The fans who are opposing the Black Lives Matter movement are hypocritical racists. I’m sure that back in 1947 there were plenty of people who couldn’t understand why the Dodgers had to bring race into it.

We are told that somehow saying Black Lives Matter should instead by All Live Matter. That it’s wrong to single out black lives as more important.

And yet, don’t All Players Matter? Why do single out Jackie Robinson? Why did we retire his number even on teams he never played for? Why does all of baseball wear his number on April 15? Why is the Rookie of the Year Award named for him? Why is April 15 named Jackie Robinson Day?

Other black players quickly joined the Major Leages after Robinson broke the color barrier. Aren’t those men important? What about those men who played all their career in the Negro Leagues and never had the chance that Robinson did?

Are not all of these men important?

And what about the other players? The white players. The Asian players? Aren’t we minimizing their work, their worth when we venerate Jackie Robinson so highly?

Of course not. Of course all players matter. However, Jackie Robinson is honored for what he accomplished, but also in recognition of the horrible treatment black ballplayers were subjected to for decades.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are not saying they are more important than other lives. We are recognizing the mistreatment that black Americans were subjected to for decades.

And I say baseball fans who object to baseball’s embracing BLM are hypocritical racists because they are the same type of fans who opposed Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers in 1947. But, I’m sure if you asked them, they would tell you how proud they are that baseball broke the color barrier decades before the Civil Rights movement. They would talk about the courage of Robinson and what he had to overcome.

And then they would ask why baseball has to get all “political.” Why do they have to make it about race? Why can’t they just focus on playing baseball and leave all the politics out of it?

Because baseball has always been about race. Sometimes they’ve got it right, like Branch Rickey in 1947. Sometimes they got it wrong, like Ben Chapman in 1947.

So, if you are a baseball fan and you support Jackie Robinson Day. If you are proud of the history of integration baseball has shown. If you admire stars like Griffey and Rivera and Ichiro, not because they are players of color, but simply because they are great ball players, you should be supportive of MLBs support of BLM.

Our history is our future. And there’s no more room for racists in 2020 than there was in 1947.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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