A NEW JACKIE HISTORY LESSON
Jackie Robinson's legacy is not only
the integration of African-Americans
into major league lineups, but the
presence of all races in large numbers.
Baseball is now integrated
at a scale nobody expected
By MAURY ALLEN
The 2007 New York baseball season will begin this week without a true African-American in the starting lineup of the Yankees or Mets.
Prejudice or progress? Ahh, thats the question 60 years after Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Derek Jeter will be at shortstop for the Yankees. He has a white mother and an African-American father. He is the Barack Obama of baseball, too light skinned to be truly black and too black to be truly an honoree of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
What does this all mean six decades after Robinson survived the most difficult experience in sports history?
After sauntering through a dozen spring training camps last month, I realized the changes in the Great American Pastime. Baseball is no longer the national game, it is the international game.
There are more players from Central America, South America, Japan, China and Australia than there are kids from the corn fields of Iowa. If Bob Feller brought his Van Meter, Iowa background to baseball in 2007, his 100-MPH fastball would be looked on as routine and his background would be looked on as strange.
About 30 or 40 years ago, in the heat and height of the civil rights movement, young professor Harry Edwards said the acceptance of blacks into sports was the grandest racist plot in American social life. He suggested that blacks were allowed into baseball, football and basketball (even hockey and soccer now) as a scam for keeping them out of medical school, dental school, engineering, business and politics.
Now blacks in the professions are hardly noticed. A black (half) may be the next president of the United States. Black faces are seen in theater, movies, television and every other form of American artistic expression.
I like to think the absence of blacks in baseball is more about the presence of blacks in business than it is about any form of American racism.
A walk through a spring training press box now or a regular season stadium area when the real games begin will show more reporters of Asian and Latin background than the old fashioned tough, pale, cigarette-dangling sportswriters of my early days in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Billy Martin, the late crusty manager of the New York Yankees, once summed up the attitude of baseball managers about race, religion and color.
Id play Adolph Hitler, Martin once shouted when confronted with a suggestion of racial prejudice, if he could hit a curve ball.
After Jackie Robinson broke in and helped the Dodgers to a 1947 pennant and Monte Irvin integrated the New York Giants and Elston Howard integrated the Yankees in 1955 (Pumpsie Green was the last to integrate a big league team with a 1959 appearance for the Boston Red Sox) prejudice really disappeared on the field. It only mattered if the ball player could play.
There were cases of racism throughout the games late 20th century history, probably no different in degree than in any American venture. Occasionally there would be a Reggie Jackson. He was generally hated by his teammates, not for his color (mixed Hispanic and African American) but for his character. Braggadocios.
Today Japanese players mingle with Hispanic players, white players dine with Chinese players, Australians socialize with Latin players. It is truly an integrated game.
Something called the World Baseball Classic put players together last year as never happened before. A Japanese team beat a Cuban team for the title and all of the American players who skipped a good part of spring training enjoyed the experience.
Now there is talk of teams in the big leagues in Europe, Japan and South America. The World Series, the most mis-named tournament in sport, may truly become a world event with representation from dozens of countries.
I truly think Jackie Robinson would be pleased and proud if he looked around the starting lineups of big league clubs today and saw the opportunities for salaries in the millions for young kids from so many countries.
Robinsons greatest contribution may not have simply been opening the game to minorities in this country but opening the game to millions of kids around the world.
This year a professional league will actually begin in Israel with three former big league players, Art Shamsky, Ron Blomberg and Ken Holtzman, rare big league Jewish players, managing teams in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
It wont be long before one of their players graduates from the Tel Aviv Tigers to the New York Mets, an instant hero to the large New York Jewish population.
I am not concerned that no pure African American is in the opening day starting lineup of the Mets or the Yankees in 2007. It means they are on the CEO track of big companies, starring as Academy Award actors, running universities or running for president.
Jackie Robinson was one of the most significant figures in 20th century America. His legacy really lives on in board rooms instead of ball fields.
©2007 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. East, San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted April 2, 2007.
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