April 8 - Race and Racism in Baseball Day

Posted on April 8, 2018

We all know about Jackie Robinson, right?

Number 42.

He broke the "color barrier" in Major League Baseball in 1947 when he began to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He braved all the abuse, the heckling and racial slurs from the stands and the prejudice and segregation from the team travel arrangements, the death threats and more.

Jackie Robinson was the first African American MLB player.

But...what about managers?

On this date in 1975, a former outfielder named Frank Robinson became the first African American MLB manager! Hooray for another color barrier being broken!

This is a statue of Frank Robinson - alongside the real-life Frank Robinson!
Frank Robinson was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians. Back in 1975, most people didn't think twice about the team name, but some American Indians (aka Native Americans, indigenous Americans, etc.) have been complaining about the name at least since the 70's. Recently, more and more people are saying that the name is offensive. Using "Indians" in the title makes Native Americans into mascots on par with Tigers, Cubs, and Blue Jays. Many have demanded that that team change its name.

Or at least change its ultra-offensive logo, Chief Wahoo. Wow, talk about "redskin"! 

(To be clear, "redskin" is a racial slur - I am upset about the Cleveland team's use of red-colored man as a logo. Native peoples finally won a victory on the logo issue; as of next year, Chief Wahoo will be gone.)

One argument that some people make is that there are other teams that have groups of people as their name. The Milwaukee Brewers, the Seattle Mariners, the Texas Rangers, the San Diego Padres are all examples of this. However, these are names of occupational groups - not racial or ethnic groups -  and are therefore quite different. Basketball's Boston Celtics is more along the lines of the use of Native American team names - but Irish Americans dominated Boston's politics long before the name was chosen in 1946, so they were a powerful group, not a marginalized group.

Here's another connection between this date, racism, and baseball:

On this date in 1987, Al Campanis was fired from his position as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers because he made racist remarks on TV! 

Campanis had been asked by Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel why there had been few black field managers in the league, and NOT ONE black general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. (When we call someone a manager, in baseball, we almost always mean the field manager - the guy who is always on TV, the head coach, as it were. The general manager, on the other hand, is the person who hires and fires the coaching staff, including the field manager.) 

Campanis answered the question in this way: Black people "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager." He also said elsewhere in the interview that black people are often poor swimmers because "they don't have the buoyancy."

Koppel gave Campanis a chance to reconsider his words, asking, "Do you really believe that?"

I guess Campanis really believed that, because he pretty much doubled down. However, after Campanis was forced to resign, he tried to explain his remarks by talking about how exhausted he was during the interview and that he'd meant that black people didn't have the "necessities" to manage because they hadn't been given opportunities to develop management skills, not because they were born inferior in some way.

It's worth noting that Campanis played alongside Jackie Robinson and seemed to have a good relationship with him; also, when Campanis resigned, many of the African-American and Hispanic players on the Dodgers did speak up in his defense. So the kind of racism that Campanis had was not the obvious, hate-filled kind.

Still, despite the fact that he demonstrated a "nicer" kind of racism - it was racism. 

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