Thursday, September 28, 2023

MLB Jackie Robinson Day: Reflections On Race, Sport, Ownership, And A Hostle Take Over Of The Negro Leagues.

April 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Money, News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( I must admit that I am a rabid baseball fan of the New York Yankees and there is probably no greater disruption to my life at the present moment than the inability to watch MY team make its way to a long-overdue World Series Title. In a world filled with so much uncertainty, I do know this for certain; a world without Major League Baseball is simply not enjoyable.

Most who know my relationship with Major League Baseball (MLB) find it conflicting that although I am a Black man who is an unbridled MLB fanatic, I do not view Jackie Robinson’s integration of the sport with rose-colored glasses. I fully understand that this make me an anomaly among African-American fans of MLB; this point is annually reinforced for me during Jackie Robinson day celebrations.

Where others see cause to celebrate the integration of MLB, I mourn at the losses Black America suffered as a result of this “racial progress.” Jackie Robinson’s selection as the first Black player to play in the “Major Leagues” would come at a rarely discussed cost to black communities as well as Negro League players and team owners. In a world that made the closing of physical distance between Blacks and Whites akin to racial progress, the underside of integration is rarely, if ever, discussed. Jackie Robinson Day has become a moment of forced racial tranquility via the curtailing of critiques around Race, baseball, power, and ownership.

The historical record indicates that there has always been a cadre of Black leaders who pursued integration by any means necessary. This foolhardy pursuit of integration at all costs has historically resulted in the ruin of much of Black America.

Never mentioned in annual celebrations of Robinson’s arrival to the Los Angeles Dodgers roster is the economic ruin that resulted within black communities that were buoyed by revenue flowing from the Negro Leagues. Although it is painful to admit, Robinson’s donning of a Dodgers uniform meant the eventual loss of dollars within black communities that circulated those much-needed monies; we must remember that the circulation of black dollars was partially facilitated by the pernicious effects of Jim Crow mandated racial segregation. The socioeconomic casualties, especially the loss of team ownership, are far too numerous to list in this space. Negro League teams such as the

  • Atlanta Black Crackers
  • Cleveland Buckeyes
  • New York Black Yankees
  • Kansas City Monarchs

were not only a significant source of entertainment for the African-American communities that housed them but also provided the opportunity for team ownership for African-American men such as Joe Green, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Tom Wilson.

By most accounts, including those of MLB players such as Babe Ruth, Negro League players were more skilled and physically superior to their White counterparts. Such comparisons extended to comparisons of folk-heroes such as Babe Ruth whose talent was eclipsed by the great Josh Gibson; Baseball historians tell us that it was Gibson, not Ruth, who was the only man to ever hit a ball out of old Yankee Stadium.

In hindsight, it made little sense for Negro League teams to disassemble and have its most socially acceptable, not necessarily most talented, pieces parceled out to MLB teams. The Black Nationalist portion of my mind hopes that if Black America understood that the most significant consequence of Jackie Robinson integrating MLB for our community was the dismantling of the Negro Leagues and the decline of our socioeconomic viability that they would temper their celebration of Jackie Robinson Day.

Now please do not take my words as a veiled call for an extension of racial segregation, it is not. However, this call is a harkening for Black America to reconsider its rush to abandon institutions they have created and controlled for entities they have no ownership of.

In hindsight, it is obvious that the decline of the Negro Leagues was a hostile takeover executed by MLB owners. There is no other means of viewing this occurrence by MLB power-brokers like Branch Rickey. From the beginning, MLB owners appeared determined to limit the “integration” of their sport to the playing field, not the owner’s box. If figures such as Branch Rickey were truly interested in integrating baseball they would have pursued diversity throughout the entire game from the playing field to the ownership ranks. What makes this matter more despicable is that there is precedence for such an occurrence in the world of professional sports.

There was a time when the National Basketball Association (NBA) faced stiff competition from the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA). Now I do not want you to think that the ABA was some ragtag outfit composed of players who did not possess the talent to play in the NBA. The ABA was very similar to the Negro Leagues in that it featured incredibly talented players who mesmerized fans with an exciting brand of basketball that the NBA could not rival. Here are a few of the greats that began their careers in the ABA:

  • Julius “Dr. J.” Irving
  • Artis Gilmore
  • Connie Hawkins
  • Rick Barry
  • Spencer Haywood
  • Billy Cunningham
  • George McGinnis
  • George Gervin
  • Moses Malone
  • Dan Issel
  • David Thompson

Instead of “integrating” the ABA stars into NBA teams, NBA owners merged with the upstart league and accepted the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets into their league. Players from the two remaining teams that folded due to financial reasons were placed in a dispersal draft.

When placed within this context, it is obvious that there was nothing, outside of racial bigotry fueled institutional racism, preventing White Major League owners from merging with the Negro Leagues and bringing several pre-existing franchises into their league. Although I am certain that many will charge that White fans would have boycotted inter-racial games, such an action would have had little impact on profits as African-American fans would have flocked to the games in droves with hopes that black baseball players would once again prove their superiority to their White counterparts. Despite it being relatively difficult to comprehend considering the popularity of football and basketball within Black America, there was a time when baseball was Black America’s favorite pastime.

Unfortunately for Negro League owners and the black community, the price White team owners demanded for their “acceptance” of African-American baseball players was the absence of Black ownership within the MLB ranks. From their perspective, African-Americans were only acceptable as employees, not as owners possessing a voice in league operations. It is for these reasons that I cannot fully embrace Jackie Robinson Day because it symbolizes for me colossal loss in a host of important arenas, a cost that is so enormous that it is impossible to tally to the present day.

Staff Writer; Dr. James Thomas Jones III

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One may also connect with this brother via TwitterDrJamestJones.

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