As the 2019 baseball postseason starts, sadly without my beloved Cubs, I’ve got an opinion concerning baseball to get off my chest.
Any baseball fan has heard of Jackie Robinson, who played 9 years for the Dodgers. He had quite a career, winning the Rookie of the Year Award, 6 All-Star appearances, 6 World Series appearances, and the 1949 Most Valuable Player Award (MVP). He’s credited by Major League Baseball (MLB) for being the first black man to play in the majors. He was also the first black player to be inducted, rightly, into the Hall of Fame.
Robinson’s uniform number, 42, has been retired permanently by MLB. On April 15th, Jackie Robinson Day, every player wears a uniform with the number 42 in honor of the man who broke the color barrier in baseball.
But, did you know Luis Castro was the first Latin player to appear in the major leagues, having played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902? He played 42 games, but was released, evidently for mediocre statistics.
The first Latin player, and arguably the best, to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, was Roberto Clemente. He played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 years before dying in a plane crash. An All-Star for 12 seasons, MVP in 1966, batting leader 4 times, and Gold Glove winner for 12 years, he’s a member of the exclusive 3,000-hit club. I still have nightmares of his “clothesline” heaves from right field to catch a hapless Cubs player at home plate.
But, perhaps the biggest name in baseball is “Babe” Ruth. Anyone who’s watched baseball knows about the “Babe,” even though he’s been dead for over 70 years. Not only was he larger than the game, he was larger than life.
His athletic prowess in baseball in the early part of the twentieth century was unparalleled, both from the pitcher’s mound and with the bat. Incredibly, he hit more home runs personally in a season than any other TEAM in the American League…and he did it twice!
To his credit, Babe was voted the Athlete of the Century by the Associated Press; Greatest Baseball Player of all Time by Sporting News; the Greatest Player of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated; and placed second in the ESPN Athlete of the 20th Century. Nobody dominated a sport like the “Babe.”
So, here’s the rub - Jackie Robinson wasn’t the first black man to play professional baseball. At best, he was fourth, and possibly fifth if one believes the rumor Babe Ruth was half-black, an issue that dogged him early in his career.
In fact, black men played professional baseball games before Robinson was born in 1919.
The first was William White, a college student, who played first base for just one game for the Providence Grays on June 21, 1879.
OK, perhaps that was just a one-day fluke? Two more black men played before Robinson. The first to play regularly in the major leagues was Moses “Fleet” Walker, who capably played 42 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings during the 1884 season. Later in the season his brother Weldy briefly joined him.
The Walker brothers also suffered and fought extreme prejudices over their season, in which some games were cancelled just by their appearance. Fleet was released in September of 1884 due to hand injuries sustained playing catcher…without a glove!
Given the immense accomplishments of players like Ruth and Clemente, as examples, and the fact that Robinson wasn’t the first professional black player, I’ve an issue with the way the MLB memorializes Robinson. From what I’ve read about Robinson, he’d have a problem with it too.
Why is the number 42 retired throughout baseball, yet Ruth’s number 3 is only retired at Yankee Stadium and Clemente’s 21 only in Pittsburgh?
Why isn’t Walker officially recognized as the first black player? The snub of Walker diminishes the accomplishments of Robinson. Not to insult Robinson but there were many greater players - of all colors - who had much better statistics in their careers. (Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb)
This feels like just another hollow political correctness program altering history to fit a narrative, and, of course to sell jerseys. There’s too much of history altering going on these days, folks.
My opinion, the April 15th commemoration itself should be retired and the number 42 unretired, except for the Dodgers.
We as a society need to start pushing back at those who will saddle others with ridiculous observances, policies and ceremonies that are, in reality, wrong and/or meaningless.