Every year baseball remembers Jackie Robinson and his herculean task of breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nothing can sufficiently repay Robinson for the abuse he endured. While he was the focal point of baseball’s integration he was not alone, other trail blazers followed him to integrate every team. Collectively they changed baseball and America forever. They shouldered the weight of integration with some help along the way.
Branch Rickey believed Jackie Robinson could handle the abuse the first African American player would face. Robinson endured abuse from fans and opposing players. Even the Dodger locker room was not a safe haven. When he arrived in Brooklyn several players began a petition stating their desire to be traded rather than play with Robinson. The petition sought to force Branch Rickey to end his attempt to integrate baseball. Several players signed the petition, but it was critical that the de facto team captain sign to show a united front against Robinson. There was little doubt he would sign, having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, surely a southern man would refuse to play alongside Robinson.
Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was a southern man, but he held no animosity towards anyone based upon their skin color. When approached by his teammates Reese refused to sign, killing the petition. The other Dodgers may not have liked Robinson, but the locker room was now free from the abuse raining down on the field.
Pee Wee Reese was a Hall of Fame Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers and friend to Jackie Robinson. (National Baseball Library and Archives, Cooperstown, NY)
Reese was called up to Brooklyn in 1940 and remained with the Dodgers for his entire career, retiring after the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958. He served in the Navy during World War II, missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning from the Navy, Reese began his career in earnest. His greatest season was 1949. In 155 Games, Reese led the National League with 132 Runs scored, collected 172 Hits including 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 16 Home Runs. He had 73 RBI and stole 26 Bases. Reese walked 116 times with just 59 Strikeouts. He hit .279, with an .396 OBP, .410 SLG, .806 OPS, and an 113 OPS+. Reese was named team captain before the following season.
Reese played 2,166 Games. He scored 1,338 Runs, collected 2,170 Hits including 330 Doubles, 80 Triples, and 126 Home Runs with 885 RBI. He stole 232 Bases, drew 1,210 Walks with 890 Strikeouts. He hit .269, with an .366 OBP, .377 SLG, .743 OPS, and an 99 OPS+. Shortstops were supposed to focus their attention on defense, but Reese was an elite offensive Shortstop.
Reese played more than 2,000 games at Shortstop. He led National League Shortstops in Putouts in four seasons. Over 60 years after his retirement, Reese still has the 12th most Putous and 13th most Double Plays for Shortstops. He was a solid defender even using modern metrics having led all National League players in dWAR in 1942, 1947, 1948, and 1949. His 25.6 career dWAR is the 17th highest of all time, regardless of position.
Pee Wee Reese was selected to 10 All Star Games and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting eight times. He led the Dodgers to seven World Series, all against the Yankees. Reese has the most World Series appearances with one team for a non-Yankee. Despite their success the Dodgers won only one World Series. Brooklyn lost in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956. Reese and Elston Howard have the most World Series defeats, six. Brooklyn won their lone World Series in 1955. Failure was not Reese’s fault. In 44 World Series Games, he scored 20 Runs, collected 46 Hits including 4 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 2 Home Runs with 16 RBI. He Stole 5 Bases, drew 18 Walks with 17 Strikeouts. He hit .272, with an .346 OBP, .349 SLG, and an .695 OPS.
In 1984, the Veteran’s Committee selected Reese for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The committee referenced his play and support of Jackie Robinson in their reasoning for his selection. No moment better underscores the support Reese gave Robinson than at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947. Amid a deluge of abuse Reese put his arm around Robinson. The show of support told the crowd and opposing players that Reese supported his teammate and would defend his friend against the abuse. Some claim the event occurred in Boston against the Braves at Braves Field in 1948. Regardless where and when it occurred Reese helped ease the chaos surrounding baseball’s integration.
Pee Wee Reese showing his support for Jackie Robinson was critical in helping Robinson and other African American players successfully integrate baseball. (Ron Cervenka)
Reese standing with his arm around Robinson is immortalized in bronze and granite outside MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Reese could not deflect all the abuse directed at Robinson, but he could support him in public and private. A white player standing with Jackie Robinson was critical. The support coming from a southern man was monumental. Reese did not care what color Robinson was, they were teammates. Reese was asked if he was worried about losing his job prior to Robinson joining the Dodgers, “If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.” Instead of replacing him, Robinson and Reese formed a dynamic Double Play combination. Reese joked with Robinson to ease some of the tension, he cared about Robinson the man beyond baseball. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, as Reese was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.
People are rarely successful on their own, they receive support along the way. Jackie Robinson faced unfathomable abuse as he integrated baseball. No one could shield him from the onslaught. However, people like Pee Wee Reese helped lighten the burden. On this Jackie Robinson Day let us remember Robinson’s great courage and sacrifice to improve baseball and America. Let us also not forget those who helped him achieve success, including his teammate and friend Pee Wee Reese. Small gestures can change history.
The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.
Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)
Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.
However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.
The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer. (www.mlb.com)
The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.
Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)
Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.
After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)
We lost an important bridge to our collective past last week. Monte Irvin played in the Negro League for the Newark Eagles, in the Major Leagues primarily for the New York Giants and also served in World War II. Irvin, like Dr. King, helped positively transform the society we live in today.
Debuting at the age of 19 in 1938, Monte Irvin became one of the best players in the Negro Leagues. He spent nine seasons with the Newark Eagles, interrupted by a single season with the Veracruz Azules of the Mexican League in 1942 and military service from 1942 through 1945. After his discharge from the military, Irvin returned to Newark and continued playing for the Eagles until his contract was purchased by the New York Giants in 1949.
Monte Irvin made up for lost time when he was signed by the New York Giants in 1949. (www.cnn.com)
Monte Irvin debuted for the Giants in 1949, when he was already 30 years old. Despite this late start, Irvin still enjoyed plenty of success over his eight seasons in the Majors. Irvin hit 99 HR, 443 RBI, .293 BA, .383 OBP, .475 SLG, and .858 OPS. He finished third in the 1951 National League MVP voting and was elected to the 1952 All Star game. The true career stat line for Irvin has been lost to history, but spending just over half of his career in the Majors gives everyone an understanding how special of a player Monte Irvin was.
Continuing to make an impact after he finished his playing career, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets for two seasons, 1967 to 1968. In 1968, Irvin was named an MLB Public Relations Specialist for the Commissioner’s Office for then Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In his role under the Commissioner, Irvin was the first African-American executive in professional baseball, outside of the Negro Leagues. Irvin’s accomplishments on and off the diamond paved the way for so many other who would follow behind him.
“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team,” said Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s. Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”
It was with this belief and understanding of how great a player and person Monte Irvin was that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee. Irvin was enshrined due to his play in the Negro Leagues. While MLB has not been perfect on recognizing the contributions of Negro League players to the development of the game of baseball, it has attempted to correct past wrongs.
Monte Irvin was a Hall of Fame player, but his impact on baseball and society went far beyond the diamond. (www.baseballhall.org)
Respect is something that is earned over a lifetime. Monte Irvin had the respect of his peers and executives while he was still playing for the Newark Eagles and for the New York Giants. This respect carried over after Irvin retired from playing as he was brought back to baseball as a scout by the Mets and quickly hired by the Commissioner’s Office. The ability to be away from the game for nearly a decade, and then return and quickly have an impact speaks volumes about the respect people in baseball had for Irvin, and Irvin’s own ability and power to deliver.
At the age of 96, Monte Irvin was the oldest living former Negro League player. In the same way we as a nation are losing our direct connection to the past as more and more World War II veterans pass away, so too are we losing our connection to the Negro Leagues. The necessity of the Negro League will always be a sad experience in our nation’s history. While some efforts have been made to correct the wrongs of the era, the unfortunate truth is history cannot be rewritten and we must learn from our mistakes. The ability for us as a society to stop making the same mistakes and to move forward together depends on individuals such as Monte Irvin. His career was hindered simply due to the color of his skin. Irvin put any animosity he harbored, which would have been justified, aside and worked tirelessly to play the game he loved. He continued this after his playing days were over as he was a trailblazer for African-Americans, and other minorities, as he worked as a scout and an executive. Monte Irvin understood his opportunities and knew he would help lay the groundwork for those following behind him. Every day we are losing the men who played in the Negro Leagues, and with them the stories of those games. While it is sad that this chapter in our collective history ever existed, and that much of it has indeed been lost to history, we must remember how these men and women, working under difficult circumstances, tore down a bastion of institutionalized racism in baseball. The game of baseball has long been the forerunner to social change in America. Men like Monte Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe helped move the United States towards recognizing that all men are created equal by displaying their talents on the baseball diamond. The passing of Monte Irvin is a loss for baseball and America. His contributions to both will continue to reverberate for decades to come.
Happy belated Martin Luther King Day. Let us always remember those who have come before us and righted the wrongs of society, and let us continue their work every day.
Jackie Robinson Day is a day to celebrate both the man and the obstacles he overcame to have a lasting impact both on baseball and American society. April 15, 1947 was the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson and the Dodgers hosted the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. The game itself is not what is important about that day; rather it is the change to American society on that day on a baseball diamond in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Over the next 10 seasons, all spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson displayed what it meant to be a man. Robinson deserves a place in the National baseball Hall of fame simply for his contributions to the game. The Hall of Fame worthy numbers he amassed during his career only push him further up the list of greatest baseball players of all time. Robinson’s importance has nothing to do with his statistical accomplishments; greatness does not always show up in the box score. Greatness is facing your challenges head on and overcoming them with grace.
Robinson faced the worst that society had to offer; the derogatory remarks, the threats of physical violence, the constant verbal and psychological abuse came from fans in the stands and opposing players and coaches. The task of playing professional baseball is difficult enough, without the constant barrage of hostility from those who could not see past their own racism. Yet, through it all, Robinson remained professional and committed to the game he loved. Robinson showed baseball the error of its ways, that barring African-Americans from playing in the Major Leagues had been a colossal mistake. Robinson was not the best player in the Negro Leagues during his brief time there; rather he was a prime example of the talent that was excluded from Major League rosters because of people who thought a person’s skin color mattered more than their ability.
Jackie Robinson, like so many African-Americans, served his country admirably during World War II. They fought, and died, to defend the freedoms of people in Europe and Asia, while at home they were treated as second-class citizens. Robinson defended his country but was forced to defend himself against trumped up charges in a court-martial based on the bigoted ideas of other soldiers. He was ultimately cleared of all charges, but this experience in the Army served as an introduction for what Robinson would later face in the Major Leagues.
The abuse, verbal and psychological, that Robinson, along with the other early African-American players, sought to strip them of their humanity. The United States is better off because of Jackie Robinson. His contributions continue to reverberate nearly seven decades after he first stepped on to a Major League field. He showed that the color of a person’s skin was not relate to their worth as a person. The Civil Rights Movement built upon Robinson’s legacy and pushed for equal rights for all. The drive for equality continues today. The end of the segregation in baseball and the signing of bills into law does not mean the fight for equality is over. Rather it means attention is being paid to the problem. Change happens a little at a time, and it requires those who are suffering to behave with the same steadfastness and grace that Jackie Robinson did. Changing people’s misconceptions is difficult, and these beliefs are reinforced when they are ridiculed. Jackie Robinson did not lash out at those who challenged him. He maintained his dignity, and proved that the color of his skin did not make him better or worse than anyone else. Robinson probably had his private moments of doubt, like we all do, but he was strong enough and willed himself to greatness. Greatness that does not appear in a box score. The type of greatness that continues to have an impact almost 70 years later.
African-Americans have played a critical role in the development of both baseball and America. Their contributions to both go beyond the box scores or the newspaper headlines. Honoring the memory of the Negro Leagues and educating people about the challenges and triumphs of the people involved with this era of our nation’s history is preserved at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM). Founded in 1990, the NLBM was created from the efforts of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players. The museum has continued to grow since its founding and is a treasure trove of information about the Negro Leagues and its players. Its home in Kansas City, Missouri reflects the importance of the city to Negro League Baseball as it was home to the premier team, the Kansas City Monarchs.
Current NLBM President Bob Kendrick continues to operate the museum as an excellent mixture of remembering the past, while educating the future. He, along with the late Buck O’Neil, have been instrumental in remembering and promoting the Negro Leagues. O’Neil spent much of his life, especially his later years championing the cause of Negro League players. This includes pushing for more Negro League players to be inducted into the National Baseball hall of fame. After far too long the Negro Leagues are now viewed for what they truly were, top level baseball played by men who should have been in the Major Leagues but were denied access based solely upon the color of their skin.
Honoring and remembering the Negro Leagues is a pleasure because of the great accomplishments of the men and women who worked to promoted African-American baseball at a time when society did not view their skill or their humanity as equal. It is also a somewhat solemn task, as we will never know how great these players truly were in comparison to the stars in Major League Baseball due to their being denied the opportunity to compete alongside the other greatest baseball players in the world. Was Josh Gibson the black Babe Ruth, or was Babe Ruth the white Josh Gibson? This debate will never be settled. What sort of statistics would Satchel Paige have put up if he had had the opportunity to start pitching in the Majors when he was 20 years old instead of 41 years old? How would the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the New York Yankees match up during their peaks in the early 1930’s?
Unfortunately we will never know the answers to these questions. We can hypothesize and speculate, but the debates should have been settled on the diamond and not in the theoretical. The shame of the Negro Leagues is not upon the players, executives, or fans of the league, but rather on those who necessitated its creation and operation. The Negro Leagues were a matter of necessity for African-American players. Shut out of Major League Baseball for more than 60 years, they formed teams and leagues to allow them to play the game they love. Arguments can be made that the Negro Leagues were not of the same caliber of play as the Major Leagues, but given the realities for African-Americans in the United States from the 1880’s through the 1960’s, having their own league was a source of pride. Off the field, African-American faced unspeakable racism, discrimination, and violence, but on the field it all faded away. It does not matter if you are white, Hispanic, Asian, or African-American if you can hit and/or throw a baseball better than the other team, you win.
The NLBM is vital to the preservation and celebration of all the greatest that was the Negro Leagues. The executives, players, personalities, and fans were what made the Negro Leagues so successful for so long. While they were dissolved by the 20th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, their impact continues today. The growth and development of African-American baseball is directly related to the success of the Negro Leagues and the players who made the transition from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. The Negro Leagues served their unfortunate purpose admirably for several decades. Their decline is a sort of end of a golden age of baseball, but it is also the change in attitudes and beliefs in society. No longer will individuals be prevented from reaching the heights of their profession because of their skin color. The time in which racism, discrimination, and violence against African-American is accepted has passed. Society is not perfect, but it has changed for the better. Baseball has led the charge for change. The Negro Leagues were the best alternative for African-American baseball players during a time when they were deemed unequal, and thus barred from playing in the Major Leagues. The NLBM connects this past with the present and educated people about the people who drove for the change in society that finally came, despite seemingly impossible odds. This is the story of African-Americans in the United States and it is vitally important that we preserve this history of the Negro Leagues from both on and off the diamond for future generations.
Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and the other men and women who worked tirelessly to not only create a space for African-Americans to play baseball, but also to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, are critical to the sports success. African-American players have never made up a majority of the players in Major League Baseball; topping out at 19% according to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member and researcher Mark Armour. However, only 8.5% of the players on Major League rosters were African-American on Opening Day in 2013. The dwindling numbers were a call to action for baseball to stop the loss of interest in the game by the African-American community.
Major League Baseball has taken action. The creation of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Urban Youth Academy have been instrumental in bringing baseball to kids who might otherwise be prevented from playing due to a host of obstacles. John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, started RBI in 1989 in Los Angeles. RBI aims to give disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball. Initially RBI was directed at 13 to 16 year olds, with the aim of both expanding the baseball talent pool in urban areas and creating a positive place for kids to learn and grow both mentally and physically away from the streets. Today, RBI has expanded to include all kids from age 5 to 19 and the organization operates in more than 200 cities, reaching more than 200,000 urban boys and girls.
The MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) began in 2006 in Compton, California. UYA seeks to instruct and groom baseball and softball players through open workouts. Participants are taught fundamentals, theories in baseball, and their education in the classroom that extend beyond baseball. UYA seeks to prepare urban students for playing beyond high school, either in college or professionally. Like RBI, UYA focuses on opening up the game of baseball to urban youth, and those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.
The efforts of Major League Baseball to increase the participation of African-Americans in baseball are paying dividends. In the 26 years since its founding, RBI has sent several players to the Majors. RBI alumni include CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Carl Crawford, BJ (Melvin Jr.) Upton, Justin Upton, Julio Borbon, Efren Navarro, Rickey Romero, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Young, and James McDonald. While this list of RBI alumni who have played in the Majors is not pages long, it does speak to the success of the program. These 13 Major League players are only a part of the success. It is not out of the question that for each player who makes the Majors there is another who played in the Minors, bringing the total to 26. Easily more than 100 alumni could be current or former collegiate baseball or softball players, and countless more could have stayed in school throughout high school so they could play baseball or softball. RBI and UYA have positively influenced countless young men and women. The proof of RBI and UYA’s success has gone beyond the baseball or softball diamond, and into the lives of the alumni. The alumni have gained self-confidence, physical fitness, life skills, and an education that can propel them to greater heights.
Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is one among many African-American players that RBI and UYA participants can see themselves in and aspire to emulate. RBI and UYA are addressing the problems that traditionally create obstacles to African-Americans. McCutchen wrote in The Players Tribune about the biggest hurdle he faced, money. Youth baseball has become expensive, as travel teams have become how players garner attention. The expenses to be a member of the team, the travel costs, and so on prevent players who come from families who are not financially well off. In McCutchen’s case, he was able to gain the assistance of people who put him in the right place at the right time. However, not everyone will be as lucky as McCutchen. How many great players is baseball losing due to the financial barrier that disadvantaged youth cannot overcome?
Major League Baseball is addressing the decline in African-American participation in baseball. While it will take time to reverse, RBI and UYA are producing results on and off the field. Efforts must continue to open up the game of baseball to disadvantaged youth and to provide role models in and around the game to these kids. The next generation of African-American baseball fans and players is dependent upon everyone involved with baseball continuing the legacy of Jackie Robinson in which everyone has the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ethnic, economic, or social background.
Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League. He played his first game in the Major Leagues on July 5, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians. Doby has unfortunately not received nearly enough attention for his accomplishments. He faced just as much abuse and hatred as Jackie Robinson, and yet he is often not mentioned with Robinson in helping to permanently integrate Major League Baseball.
Doby, unlike Robinson, was a veteran of professional baseball before playing in Major League Baseball. He played 5 seasons with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (1942-1947). He missed all of the 1945 season while serving in the Navy during World War II. Like nearly every player from the Negro Leagues, Doby’s statistics are incomplete. The numbers were do have are impressive. In his time with the Eagles, we know he had 351 PA, 329 AB, 100 hits, 62 runs, 12 doubles, 9 triples, 8 home runs, 60 RBI, 8 stolen bases, 19 walks, .304 BA, .342 OBP, .468 SLG, .810 OPS. Excellent numbers, even if they are only a glimpse into the type of player Doby was in his late teens and early twenties.
Less than two years after becoming the principal owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck followed through with his proposal from 1942 to integrate baseball. Veeck signed Doby after paying $15,000 to Newark Eagles Business Manager and co-owner Effa Manley. Unlike Branch Rickey, Veeck felt the Negro League should be compensated for their players. The Indians signed Doby on July 3, 1947 and two day later on July 5, 1947 be played in his first Major League game.
Fittingly, the Indians were in Chicago to play the White Sox. Nearly 60 years after Cap Anson all but pushed all African-American players, including Moses Fleetwood Walker, out of baseball, Larry Doby integrated the American League against Anson’s old team. Doby appeared as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning for pitcher Bryan Stephens, striking out against Earl Harrist.
Larry Doby played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball, 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, before playing with the Chicago White Sox, and the Detroit Tigers. He was a 7-time all-star (1949-1955). He played in 1,533 games, 6,299 PA, 5,348 AB, 1,515 hits, 960 runs scored, 243 doubles, 52 triples, 253 homeruns, 970 RBI, 47 stolen bases, 871 walks, 1011 strikeouts, .283 BA, .386 OBP, .490 SLG, .876 OPS. Defensively, Doby was primarily and outfielder, but he did play eight games in around the infield. He played 1,448 games in the field, 12,395 innings, 3,797 chances, 3,640 putouts, 93 assists, 64 errors, .983 fielding percentage. Doby’s individual success also helped the Indians to find success. Cleveland reached two World Series, 1948 and 1954. The Indians won the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves 4 games to 2. Doby played all 6 games, had 22 AB, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 double, 1 home run, 2 RBI, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had .318 BA, .375 OBP, .500 SLG, .875 OPS, and 11 total bases. The Indians returned to the World Series in 1954, but were swept by the New York Giants 4 games to 0. Doby did not have the same success as in 1948. He played in all 4 games, had 16 AB, 2 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had a .125 BA, .222 OBP, .125 SLG, .347 OPS, and 2 total bases. Doby would play another five years, last playing in the Majors in 1959.
After his playing career ended, Doby bounced around through various baseball jobs before returning to the diamond as a member of the Chunichi Dragons. His return to playing baseball lasted only one season, 1962. He played 72 games, 268 PA, 240 AB, 54 hits, 27 runs, 9 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 25 walks, 73 strikeouts, .225 BA, .302 OBP, .396 SLG, .698 OPS. He played alongside former Newark Eagle and Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodger great Don Newcombe. Doby and Newcombe were the only non-Japanese players on the roster.
Retiring for good from playing, Doby returned to the United States and began coaching baseball. In 1978, Larry Doby was named the Manager of the White Sox on June 29th after owner Bill Veeck, the same as in Cleveland, fired Doby’s old teammate Bob Lemon; the team was off to a 34-40 start. Larry Doby was the second African-American Manager in Major League history; Frank Robinson was the first, having been named the player-manager of the Indians in 1975. The White Sox went 37-50 under Doby to finished 71-90 and 5th in American League West. The White Sox replaced Doby with player-manager Don Kessinger in 1979.
Larry Doby’s contributions to baseball on the diamond as a player, coach, manager, and man were critical to the successful integration of baseball and the decline of racism and intolerance in baseball and in the United States. His contributions to the game and society far exceed what ant statistics can tell. The Veteran’s Committee elected Doby to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1998. While his career as a player and manager may not place him among the greatest that have ever played the game, Doby’s contributions to the game put him in rarefied air. Jackie Robinson was the first to integrate baseball in 1947, but Doby was not far behind. He faced the same abuse from other players and fans as Robinson did, and like Robinson his ability to not lash out at the abusers was as critical as his play, if not more so, to be successful. Larry Doby and the other players who followed quickly behind Jackie Robinson often do not receive the same admiration, but they are as deserving. If not for their success, the turning of the tide against segregation and racism could have been delayed. Ignorance would have continued to drag baseball and society down for decades to come. Baseball played a critical role in ending the legalized discrimination against African-Americans in the United States. Men such as Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin, and Roy Campanella helped secure the path that Jackie Robinson blazed.
What would you do if you were if your peers respected you for the expertise in which you do your job, but as a person, they were repulsed by you? How would you react if your job was unfairly taken away from you, despite you not doing anything wrong? How would you react if the hatred that was directed at you was the result of the ignorance and intolerance of other people?
Before there was Jackie Robinson and the color barrier there were two brothers, Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker, who broke the color barrier in professional baseball. Moses was the first of the brothers to debut for Toledo. Their careers’ at the highest level of professional baseball was brief, but their impact continues to be felt over 130 later.
The Walker brothers played for the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings. Moses Fleetwood Walker enjoyed the most success of the brothers. He debuted on May 1, 1884. In 42 career games, he had 152 AB, 40 hits, 2 doubles, 3 triples, 8 walks, .263 BA, .325 OBP, .316 SLG, .641OPS. Defensively he played 41 games at catcher (352 innings) and 1 game in the outfield (7 innings), 359 innings, 328 chances, 220 putouts, 70 assists, 37 errors, and a .887 fielding percentage. Welday Walker debuted July 15, 1884. In five career games, he had 18 AB, 4 hits, 1 double, 1 run, .222 BA, .222 OBP, .278 SLG, .500 OPS. Defensively he played 38 innings in the outfield, with 6 chances, 4 putouts, 2 errors, and a .667 fielding percentage. The rookie seasons for the Walker brothers were solid foundations to build a successful career. Unfortunately, their careers would not continue, but not due to their inability to play the game.
The attitudes of two men sum up the racism the Walker brothers and other potential African-American faced on and off the field. Tony Mullane pitched for the Blue Stockings in 1884. Mullane respected Moses as a player, but not as a man.
“(Walker) was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.”
Mullane pitched in 555 career games, winning 284 games. His 284 wins are the third most of any pitcher not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mullane could not overcome his racism to treat Moses as an equal, regardless of how detrimental it was to his personal success and the success of the team to not work with his catcher.
Racism prevented the Walker brothers from the careers they should have enjoyed. After injuries sent Moses to the Minors for a few seasons, the door was shut to African-Americans players in Major League Baseball.
The second man, Cap Anson, was more powerful than Mullane. In 1887, Chicago White Stockings manager Cap Anson refused to allow his team to play against the Newark Little Giants so long as Moses or George Stovey, an African-American pitcher. Anson eventually did allow the White Stockings to play, but only after being threatened with the loss of half the ticket revenue for the exhibition game. The International League ban was eventually rescinded. The International League voted to exclude African-American players from future contracts. This decision was driven, in part, by the incident in Newark. However, in 1889 the American Association and the National League put up the color barrier, though it was never an official rule. The top level of professional baseball would not see another African-American until Jackie Robinson played on April 15, 1947.
The baseball chapter of Moses Fleetwood and Welday Walker lives was far too short. In the face of their inability to continue their playing careers, the Walker brothers turned their attention to the condition of African-Americans. Welday filed a civil rights lawsuit after being denied entry into a skating rink. While the lawsuit was successful, it did not require the skating rink to integrate. The Walker brothers become involved in politics and the Back to Africa Movement. They believed African-Americans would be better off if they left the United States and the racism that prevented so many from living fulfilling lives.
What would you do if you were if your peers respected you for the expertise in which you do your job, but as a person, they were repulsed by you? How would you react if your job was unfairly taken away from you, despite you not doing anything wrong? How would you react if the hatred that was directed at you was the result of the ignorance and intolerance of other people?
Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker, like so many African-Americans for far too long in the United States were discriminated against, looked down upon, and viewed as less than human solely based upon the pigment of their skin. Their playing careers were cut short due to the inhumanity of others, and yet they continued to fight against impossible odds to improve the lives of others in similar situations. Regardless what someone thinks about the Back to Africa Movement, it, along with the ban on African-American players in Major League Baseball, should stir the collective regret of America for how we as a people have treated our fellow citizens.
The shame of the past should not impede our collective progress, but it should work as a guide to shape how we address race in our society. Racism existed in America in 1884, in 1947, and still exists in 2015. It has decreased, but there is still work to be done. The Walker brothers did not see a hopeful future for African-Americans in the United States. 130 years later, we still have our issues, but if anything, the Walker brothers taught us to be proactive in improving our own lives. Someday racism will die out, and people will be judged and respected for their abilities and character, and not the color of their skin.
Jackie Robinson was not the best or most accomplished player in the Negro Leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was however, the man Branch Rickey felt could withstand the abuse the first African-American player would face when he stepped on a major League diamond. The players’ temperament and self-control were nearly as important as talent for Rickey. African-American players faced abuse wherever they traveled to play their games. The individual and collective hell they went through to play the game they love has fortunately become less of a reality in the decades since Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. Racism, intolerance, and ignorance are not confined to the past however, but they are no longer held by the overwhelming majority.
The 1945 season was Jackie Robinson’s only season in the Negro Leagues. He played 47 games for the Kansas City Monarchs. During his lone season with the Monarchs. Robinson had 58 AB, 24 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, scored 12 runs, stole 2 bases, had 5 walk, .414 BA, .460 OBP, .569 SLG, and 1.029 OPS. Good but not great numbers for the small sample size we have available. Robinson’s statistics are incomplete; this problem exists throughout the records of the Negro Leagues. Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs, but the statistics for his defensive play are murky and his offensive statistics are incomplete. This lack of extensive record keeping unfortunately prevents later generations from properly appreciating the greatness of the men who played in the Negro Leagues. During a time when those involved with the Negro Leagues were simply trying to make a living and survive, it is not surprising that the statistical record keeping was not a top priority. It is a sad, but understandable reality.
The Kansas City Monarchs finished fourth in the Negro American League standings in 1945. The Monarchs finished behind the Cleveland Buckeyes, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Chicago American Giants, and ahead of the Cincinnati Clowns and the Memphis Red Sox. The Cleveland Buckeyes went on to win the Negro World Series against the Washington Homestead Grays. The 1945 Monarchs featured two future Major League pitchers in Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. The rigors of the baseball season, though shorter than the Major League season, helped to prepare Robinson for life with the Dodgers. Long bus rides, having to deal with racism on the road at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and a million other places along the way were part of being a player in the Negro Leagues. This was his first taste of professional baseball, both the good and the bad.
Jackie Robinson was just one of numerous players in the Negro Leagues who had the talent to play in the Major Leagues. Some did eventually follow Robinson to the Majors, but far too many never had the chance to show their abilities to the entire baseball world. The celebration and admiration bestowed upon Jackie Robinson since 1947 are unquestionably deserved. Robinson’s success was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues. Less than 20 years after Robinson joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn the Negro Leagues were gone. The Negro Leagues were the home of beautiful baseball, colorful characters, and plenty of fun. The existence of the Negro Leagues was, and will remain, a national disgrace, as it put racism, ignorance, and intolerance on full display. African-American players used the Negro Leagues as their only means to play the game they loved, due to the barrier Major League Baseball had erected to prevent them from playing in its league. Jackie Robinson broke through the barrier and survived the gauntlet to integrate the Major Leagues and to close the Negro Leagues. The injustice of segregation began to crack and would soon crumble. Jackie Robinson helped to lead the charge in baseball that would see the best players in the world play in only one league, the Major Leagues.
April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day throughout Major League Baseball. Every player will wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseballs’ color barrier on April 15, 1947. Robinson has forever changed the game of baseball and America though his courage to stand against the racism and intolerance that existed in America.
There is a rich history of African-Americans playing baseball both in the Major Leagues and in the Negro Leagues. In the week leading up to Jackie Robinson Day, The Winning Run will take a look at the history of African-American baseball both past and present. Our efforts this week are in no way intended to be a complete history. Instead, it is a look at some of the important people, groups, and organizations which have helped to shape the African-American experience in both baseball and America.
Our efforts this week are our modest attempt to honor those who paved the way for Jackie Robinson, Jackie Robinson himself, and those who have come after to carry on the work. This is our humble offering to those who opened America’s pastime to all Americans, and to break down the wall of racism, ignorance, and intolerance both past and present.
D, J, B