Friday, November 20, 2009

Blacks and the Bosox

Most baseball fans know about Jackie Robinson and the integration of the major leagues (or at least I would hope so) and also know that the major league teams more or less started mining, for lack of a better word, the Negro Leagues for talent, and there was plenty to be had.

Which is why I'm fairly curious about owner Tom Yawkey's stance on having African American ballplayers on the Red Sox. In a Verb Plow post (a blog run by Glenn Stout), he unearths a quote from Yawkey himself in a Sports Illustrated article about the difficulties the Red Sox had in fielding a winning team during the late 1940s and 1950s. (The Red Sox won the pennant in 1946 and would not repeat that accomplishment until 1967.) This quote is deemed the "smoking gun" in proving that Yawkey was probably not the most pro-African American fellow out there.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the quote is the following:

"...we scouted them right along, but we didn't want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer."

(Read the whole story about the Red Sox's troubles here.)

Now someone out there has got to explain how two folks named Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were not deemed ballplayers, as both tried out for the Red Sox. Perhaps one can make the argument that this judgment is made in hindsight, but nonetheless anyone who witnessed the Negro Leaguers play (especially against the all-white teams of the era) could see that these were special, if not talented, baseball players. I honestly have no clue how he could have made that judgment. Bad scouts? Possibility. Racism?

About that. At first glance, the quote really doesn't speak to the point of "I RAGINGLY HATE BLACK PEOPLE," but it doesn't exactly make good baseball or even logical sense either. Again, the African American ballplayers from the Negro Leagues were mostly fully capable baseball players who could hold their own (in varying degrees) in the major leagues. And even though he had somewhat of a point in not signing and ol' random Negro Leaguer, the fact remains that how he was not able to find any black ballplayer worth his salt is beyond me.

Another part of the quote from Yawkey lends some credence to the notion that perhaps he harbored some racist tendencies. He refers to them as "clannish" and rumors that the Red Sox were not signing black players spread like wildfire among the black players and the Red Sox were (no pun intended) blackballed in the community. Stout addresses this part of the quote in the following paragraphs:

The notion that an African American ballplayer in the late 1940s and 1950s would turn down an offer to sign with any major league team over any issue, even money, sounded spurious to me, and in a survey of the Negro League history books that I have in my possession, I could find no such accounting. But I wanted to be sure.

I contacted my friend Lawrence Hogan, a Professor of History at Union College in New Jersey, one of the foremost Negro League historians in the country and the author of Shades of Glory, published by National Geographic and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a book which has been referred to as a definitive history of Black baseball in America. In an e-mail I asked him, “Are you aware of any Negro League players, from the time Robinson signed to the late 1950s, who turned down offers from major league teams to remain in the Negro Leagues?” I asked specifically if he had ever heard of such a claim in regard to a player refusing to sign with the Red Sox.

The answer is no. Wrote Hogan, “I have never heard even the slightest suggestion of either thing you mention happening. I am sure there were players good enough to be signed who were not because of the glacial pace of integration. But I can ot imagine any Negro League player turning down an offer, other than on the normal personal grounds of not enough money being offered, or wanting to get on with life in a non-baseball way.”

It's pretty silly to think that apparently all the African American ballplayers would somehow all join forces and not play for the one team. It's even sillier to think that every single one of them would somehow have knowledge and stand in solidarity.

It is important to also note that most teams did not immediately jump on the sign African American ballplayers boat. Only three teams debuted an African-American ballplayer the same year that Jackie Robinson debuted, and a large number of the teams in existence at the time debuted their first African-American player during the years 1950-54. Yawkey was not exactly the quickest guy to the trend, but then again, the rest of the owners weren't either. (In the interest of parity to make sure I don't get any anti-Yankees comments, the Bronx Bombers debuted Elston Howard on 14 Apr 1955, a little more than two years before the Red Sox debuted Pumpsie Green.)

I would like to see more about Yawkey in order to accuse him of being a racist dickwad. One quote does not make him or break him. But it sure is a building block in the case against him.

In Response

In this blog post by the esteemed Jamie Harrison, he lists the 10 Best States for Lovers of American History. Number 10 on the list is the great state of New Jersey. While he makes a pretty good case for its inclusion on the list, I think it should be ranked higher in its significance. Why? Well, I'll tell you.

1) Trenton was a major turning point for the Continental Army

If Washington doesn't win at Trenton, well, we'd all be like those Canadians up north and nominally part of the British crown now. Trenton was a major and the first victory for the Continentals. They had been more or less routed and decimated at every battle Washington fought up to that point. But this sneak attack that took place the day after Christmas Day against the fairly hungover Hessians (talk about Santa leaving a piece of coal in your stocking) proved to be a huge morale booster and kept parts of the Continental Army together that would've simply melted away. The historical importance of the Battle of Trenton cannot be dimiminished.

2) Ellis Island, NEW JERSEY

In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the vast majority of the island was formed after the cessation of the original territory to New York was not covered by that cessation and that it was indeed part of New Jersey. As such, Ellis Island is a grossly important part of a large number of American's lives. Many an immigrant was shuffled through the building in their first moments on the shores of the United States...which were New Jersey shores, I might add. It's a great place to visit and learn a bit about what great-grandfather Giuseppe experienced when he first saw his new home.

3) That Thomas Edison dude.

The Wizard of Menlo Park set up shop in New Jersey and there are a few museums dedicated to him and his work. This is the guy who invented the light bulb, record player, and the motion picture (to put it very simply). Imagine not having any of those at your next party. West Orange, New Jersey and Edison, New Jersey both have museums and monuments dedicated to this great man.

So as you see, New Jersey is quite the sight for great parts of American history. While it probably does not rival places like Washington DC, it still should be given more credit in its role in shaping the nation. In conclusion, New Jersey fucking rules.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Question

Academia is a funny thing. Somehow you're being "productive" even though you're more or less a drain on society at best. You're busy all the time, and the only thing it rewards you with is a crippling coffee habit that puts the majority of government workers to shame. One would also hope that you are studying something that piques your interest. If not, well, enjoy the slow ride to hell.

These factors often lead people, including me, to lie in bed staring off into space wondering "What is the damned point of all this? Am I wasting my time?"

Every time I ask myself this question, I then think about the alternatives. What the heck would I be doing if I wasn't "being a student" or "pursing further education in the hopes I will achieve a salary that freshly minted bachelor's graduates at Lockheed Martin would sneer at?"

The answer turns out to be "nothing more glamorous than what I'm doing right now." Seriously. What sort of grand plan would I be pursuing at this moment? Not like there are a cornucopia of options out there. At best, I would most likely be living with my parents and sulking around while working a retail job. At worst, I'd probably be living with my parents and unemployed like it was my job.

In the end, however, this is what I wanted to do for a while. I wanted to study history. I could've been like every other wonk in IT and solely concentrated on that and possibly picked up more useful things like a certificate in Network Administration or a minor in computer science. Instead, I picked up history because I liked it and it would keep me from going completely and utterly insane while listening to some of the mouth-breathing glassy-eyed wastes of space in my classes express their "opinions." Plus, there are career options. It looks like most of my professors are not sitting in their offices counting out their food stamps. I'm sure museums need someone to watch the interns. And hell, it was interesting and I found that I was kind of good at it. Why not pursue it?

Sometimes I'm more troubled by the fact that I sit around and question whether or not I'm wasting my time than the actual answer. Shouldn't I just know?, I wonder. But then I realize that wondering doesn't mean crap if you don't come up with an answer. Crises are simple sound and fury signifying nothing if they don't produce a useful plan of action. I simply don't bother with them. There are too many readings to do and too many cups of coffee to slug.

Wondering is not a terrible thing. Asking yourself questions like "Do I really want to do this?" serve a purpose. But if you decide that it's worth it to walk through hell, well, keep on going.