Baseball and integration

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I  just finished a book about The Birmingham Black Barons, entitled Willie’s Boys. The book is by John Kilma and it chronicles the Birmingham Black Barons 1948 season – Mays’s first season in professional baseball. The book contains a wealth of information about the Negro leagues, details the ardour and injustices black players faced playing in the south, as well as the excitement in the Negro leagues at a time baseball had just begun to “experiment” with segregation. I use that word because it really was an experiment.

One can always learn something from a book like this. For example, it was interesting to read about Branch Rickey. The standard line on Rickey is that he brought Jackie Robinson to the majors because he had a deeply rooted moral committment to integration. Not so according to Kilma who argues, concvincingly, that Rickey’s was a business decision and nothing more.

There is also pathos in this book. Many great Negro League players, such as Barons Manager, Piper Davis, never had the chance to play in the majors simply because their playing careers were at an end when black players were just starting to trickle into the Major Leagues. The most famous of these players was, of course, Josh Gibson. But there were many other Negro League legends who never got the chance to play in the Major Leagues and one senses that they looked upon the change with both hope and regret.

More than anything, however, the book reminds us what an unjust society we used to live in. Watching the Giants-Phillies game the other day, I could not help but think about Willie’s Boys every time the camera panned into the stands or dugout and I saw black and white sitting together. It is nice to feel that, to some extent, we have been able to overcome our prejudices and that everyone has the opportunity now to play on the same field or watch a game from the same vantage point. Progress is a good thing.


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