‘We Have No Right to Destroy Them’

On Thursday, each Major League Baseball participant will don a No. 42 jersey in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. The annual occasion, celebrated formally since 2004, marks the anniversary of Robinson’s main league debut in 1947, which broke baseball’s shade line that stretched again to the 19th century.

Robinson’s signing, a watershed second within the sport, was much more sophisticated than it has been portrayed within the years since. The transfer of Robinson, and each different star, to the National and American leagues contributed to the swift decline of the long-established Negro leagues. And on the heels of M.L.B. officially recognizing the Negro leagues as having been the equivalent of major leagues, it will be important to take a look at the way it might have performed out otherwise.

In the weeks and months after the announcement of Robinson’s signing by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 23, 1945, which got here with out compensation to the Kansas City Monarchs, Negro leagues executives had been reeling. Outside their workplace doorways, within the Black communities in Kansas City, Newark, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere, there was jubilation, a collective celebration of the obvious proof of racial progress. Inside, nevertheless, there was anger and fear a couple of younger star being taken from their leagues and what that might imply for his or her future.

Talk of integration wasn’t new. The public drumbeat of resistance to baseball’s shade line started within the 1930s, and had been steadily maintained by Black reporters (Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy, et al.) and white (Lester Rodney). But it was World War II that made the noise deafening, as so many Black males served their nation however had been nonetheless barred from the white main leagues.

Negro league groups heard it, too. They had been conscious of ill-fated main league tryouts for a handful of their gamers and the pleading by many for these gamers to be given a good probability. On the entire, nevertheless, they could have underestimated the facility of the gears churning behind the scenes, the machine of integration that might topple an business.

As it was, Negro league house owners, together with Thomas Baird and J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, discovered about their participant’s signing like the remainder of the world: from breathless radio broadcasts and blaring newspaper headlines. There had been no negotiations with Rickey; years later, Baird would comment that the Dodgers’ boss by no means responded to the letters he wrote to talk about the matter.

Still, there could possibly be no recourse. In the title of development, there could be no lawsuits or outright condemnation of Rickey’s ways. Together, the Negro league house owners agreed to take one for the proverbial Black staff in hopes that future transactions could be extra favorable.

They didn’t comprehend it then, however Rickey had no plans of letting up.

Weeks earlier than the information of Robinson’s signing, a Dodgers govt requested Effa Manley, proprietor and enterprise supervisor of the Newark Eagles — and finally the primary lady enshrined within the Baseball Hall of Fame — if she could be taken with staging an exhibition sport between her staff and the Brooklyn membership. Sensing a chance to show that Black baseball was on equal footing with the National and American Leagues, Manley pushed for extra. A single match turned a five-game collection — a showdown between the Dodgers and Eagles morphed right into a head-to-head between two All-Star lineups, full of gamers from a number of groups.

Manley’s roster didn’t win a sport, however Rickey was happy with the displaying. In the early months of 1946, 4 members of Manley’s Black All-Star staff had been signed by the Dodgers group, together with Don Newcombe of Manley’s Eagles. Only the Philadelphia Stars, house of pitcher Roy Partlow, obtained any compensation — and that was solely $1,000.

In a letter to Seward Posey, enterprise supervisor of the Homestead Grays, on April 8, 1946, Manley wrote that she and the opposite house owners regarded “very stupid to sit tight and not open our mouth with the stuff he is pulling.”

But the issue wasn’t that nobody had spoken up on the house owners’ behalf. Someone had — it was simply the unsuitable somebody.

“If the Brooklyn Dodgers want Robinson, star shortstop of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, they should pay for him,” Clark Griffith, the proprietor of the Washington Senators, told The Associated Press only a day after Robinson’s signing was introduced. “While it is true that we have no agreement with Negro leagues — National and American — we still can’t act like outlaws in taking their stars. We have no right to destroy them.”

Rickey claimed that the Negro leagues had been illegitimate and “in the zone of a racket.” He additionally addressed his fellow proprietor straight: “Clark Griffith to the contrary, I have not signed a player from what I regard as an organized league.”

Had anybody else from Major League Baseball taken Rickey to activity, historical past might have unfolded otherwise. Perhaps Newcombe and Partlow wouldn’t have been signed with out truthful recompense to their groups; maybe there would have been room made within the majors for Black managers and executives alongside the gamers deemed worthy of “the call.” But it was Griffith who made the stand, and his phrases had been irreparably tethered to his personal previous.

Aside from aggressive seasons in 1943 and 1945, Griffith’s Senators had been perennial basement dwellers within the American League from the mid-’30s by the mid-’40s, and as went the staff’s report, so did the attendance. Despite having no exterior investments, Griffith stayed financially afloat by renting Griffith Stadium to the N.F.L.’s Washington membership and, extra notably, the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.

For Negro league house owners, renting stadiums was a typical line merchandise; for white staff house owners the income was cause sufficient to pledge “support” for Black baseball. In a September 1945 memo to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City, written in response to an investigation into Major League Baseball launched by La Guardia’s Committee on Unity, Larry MacPhail, the president and basic supervisor of the Yankees, made his place clear: “Organized baseball derives substantial revenues from operation of the Negro leagues and wants these leagues to continue and to prosper.” He added: “The Yankee organization, alone, nets nearly $100,000 per year from rentals and concessions in connection with Negro leagues games.”

It wasn’t simply Griffith’s monetary stake within the continuation of Black baseball that prompted some to query the sincerity of his attraction to Rickey. For in contrast to MacPhail, who had gone solely so far as the West Coast to discover new expertise, Griffith had grow to be a daily recruiter of Latino athletes (his 1944 roster had 9 Cuban gamers and one, Alex Carrasquel, who hailed from Venezuela), whilst he refused to rent a single Black American.

“Griffith is one of the big league owners who prefers to go outside the borders of these United States and bring in players, rather than hire American citizens of color,” Smith wrote in a column for The Pittsburgh Courier on May 26, 1945. “He goes thousands upon thousands of miles in quest of players, when he could sign up a Negro player in 10 minutes.”

For Smith and others, Griffith’s battle of curiosity was thought of much more egregious than Rickey’s. It had been a decade since Griffith advised Lacy that integration would kill the Negro leagues and go away tons of of Black males jobless, however even then Griffith’s remark was seen as paltry justification for his personal anti-Blackness. Later, throughout a time of hope and precise headway, his phrases had been once more dismissed.

“As far as I am concerned, whatever Griffith says — good or bad — about Negro baseball or Negro baseball players, goes in one ear and out the other,” Smith wrote. “No individual who denies the citizens of the country in which he lives and thrives an opportunity is worth listening to.”

But the house owners of the Negro league groups, operating low on religion that a complete business wouldn’t be unjustly sacrificed for a handful of token signings and generations of inequity to come, had been listening. They had no cause not to.

“Your two leagues have established a splendid reputation and now have the support and respect of the colored people all over the country as well as the decent white people,” Griffith wrote to the Homestead Grays proprietor Cum Posey on Nov. 5, 1945. “They have not pirated against organized baseball nor have they stolen anything from them, and Organized Baseball has no moral right to take anything away from them without their consent.

“Mr. Posey, anything that is worthwhile is worth fighting for, so you folks should leave not a stone unturned to protect the existence of your two established Negro leagues. Don’t let anybody tear it down.”

Andrea Williams is the writer of “Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues.

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