The Racial Lines in Baseball

Howard W. Rosenberg, a national journalist who is an expert on U.S. baseball’s racism, sent me this and said I could place a version on our blog. It is relevant to our discussions of racism in various U.S. institutions, and notes a sad anniversary yesterday:

Even casual Chicago baseball fans may know that 1908 is when the Cubs last won the World Series. But when it comes to the history of racism in baseball, hardly anyone knows that Chicago was once the site of a one-of-a-kind moment, which took place September 6, 1908.

On that date, Adrian “Cap” Anson, the then-former Chicago National League star who today is sometimes blamed for the drawing of the sport’s color line in the 1880s – at the professional level — played with his Chicago semi-pro team in a game against Rube Foster, the then-manager and star pitcher of the Leland Giants, an all-black team in the same league. The game ended as a 13-inning tie, with Anson and Foster as the opposing first basemen throughout. The box score of the game is arguably one of the ten most interesting in all of baseball history; that’s because for the 1920 season, Foster would found the first of the Negro Leagues.

According to Cap Anson biographer Howard W. Rosenberg, Anson, with his Chicago semipro team Anson’s Colts, had played for the first time against another all-black semipro team in his league, the Leland Giants, on August 22, 1908. However, the September 6 game is arguably more symbolic. The September 6 game was played on the home field of the Leland Giants: Auburn Park, around West 77th Street. The August 22 game was played on Anson’s field … near the site of the 1893 World’s Fair. Anson, who was the lone big leaguer to reach 3,000 hits before the start of the 20th century, played from 1871 to 1897, the last 22 of which with Chicago of the National League. Anson would die in 1922, two years after the founding of the first Negro League.

In a year 2000 article on the golden age of Chicago semi-pro baseball, 1906 to 1910, baseball historian Raymond Schmidt wrote, “Semiprofessional baseball provided much of the entertainment for the sports fans of the city prior to World War I…. In addition, barriers between different types of teams had not yet solidified: major league and minor league teams from organized baseball sometimes played the semipros, and black teams regularly played white teams.” The article appeared in the Winter 2000 edition of Chicago History, a publication of the Chicago Historical Society.

[[But the racial barriers soon became entrenched, indeed.]]

On the Internet, a narrative by Schmidt, putting semi-pro ball in the context of the city’s baseball history, can be readily accessed at the following link; A recent news article referring to the game, written by Rosenberg for the McClatchy-Tribune wire, can be accessed at the following link.

How White Privilege Works

Earlier this year, Gloria Steinem wrote a provocative and controversial op-ed piece where she asked readers to imagine an African American woman, trained as a lawyer, who spent two years in the Senate and then went on to run for the Presidency. Steinem’s point was that that “gender is probably the most restrictive force in American life,” and that a Black woman could never hope to achieve such lofty heights, while a Black man is currently doing so and may in fact be elected President.

I took exception to Steinem’s premise, but now I find myself wishing she would update it. Specifically, I’d like Americans to examine a few scenarios and imagine how these would play out.

Let’s start with this one. Imagine that Michelle Obama were not Barack’s first wife, but his second one. Imagine that Obama had been separated from his first wife due to some horrible trauma, and when they finally reunited, he learned that she had been disfigured by a car accident. Imagine then that Barack met Michelle Robinson, a much younger, wealthier woman, began an affair with her while still married to his first wife. And to put the finishing touch on it, imagine that Barack eventually left his first wife for Michelle and used her father’s wealth to launch his political career. Would he be the Democratic nominee today? Or would conservatives tear him apart for his multiple marriages, infidelity, and “moral failures”? Would he generate the same support from Democratic elites, or would he be a lesser version of Kwame Kilpatrick–another black male politician for whom a sex scandal proved his undoing?

Here’s another one. Imagine that Barack Obama ran for president when Malia and Sasha were 17 and 14 instead of 10 and 7. Imagine that in the early stages of his candidacy, news surfaced that Malia was pregnant by her boyfriend, but that they planned to wed. Would Democratic leaders and left-leaning news commentators rally around Obama and insist that his family’s lives are private and not for public consumption? Or would Malia immediately become used as a symbol of irresponsible teen mothers who are a drain on society?

Let’s keep going. Imagine that Barack Obama, in the early stages of his candidacy, simply decided that all the questions and innuendo about him being Muslim, tied to a member of the Weather Underground, and a secret terrorist plant were just too much, and opted not to talk to the media any more on the grounds that they were racist. Would anyone, anyone at all, consider this defensible behavior? Would he even have a candidacy if he did this?

I’m not suggesting that Obama should want to strive for these things, or that these are behaviors to be glorified. But I don’t believe that he could have McCain’s sordid marital history, Palin’s familial dynamics, or her arrogant hostility towards the press with the same consequences. The double standard has a name, and that name is white privilege.   John Ridley writing at Huffington Post has even more examples of this sort of thing in his recent column.