The History of African Americans in Baseball Part 3
- Updated: December 26, 2008
Sometimes forgotten in the hype for Robinson was the man to break the color barrier in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, Larry Doby. This fact was even more surprising especially considering the fact that Doby entered during the same season as Robinson, just a couple of months later. This did not save Doby from numerous death threats and teammates who claimed they would refuse to play with him when they first heard the news. Despite Robinson already being in the league for a few months, and in the minors the year before, the Indians were unsure of their new teammate, “Indians’ player/manager Lou Boudreau was surprised when [owner] Bill Veeck informed him of Larry Doby’s impending arrival, and he knew his players would be shocked” (Marshall, 1999, p. 145). Doby was in one of the most famous pictures that documents the acceptance of the color line being broken. After the Indians won the 1948 World Series, Doby partied with the rest of his teammates even though many still did not want a black man on their team. During the celebration, a photograph was taken of Doby and one of his white teammates, Steve Gromek, who had been possibly the most outspoken about having Doby on the team, hugging (O’Toole, 2003, p. 66). This illustrated that perhaps everything can be overcome as long as winning is in the equation.
After Robinson and Doby, there were many other influential pioneering black players who stepped through the darkness to shed their own light on different aspects of baseball. One of these men was Curt Flood. He was not a household name like Robinson or even as well known as Doby, but it was possible that Flood did more for the players as a whole, not just players of his own race, than any other who ever stepped on the diamond. Flood sacrificed his own career, missing a few of his prime seasons, to basically force Major League Baseball to implement the free agency policy. Flood felt that all players were being treated unfairly by the league and almost went as far as equating their place in baseball to slavery by saying, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes” (O’Toole, 2003, p. 74). Before Flood’s holdout, there was a basic principle in place that when baseball players’ contracts were up, they simply had to wait for the team they were already with to offer them a contract, and the only way they could change teams would be to be traded or if their former team no longer wanted them. There was no real way for a player to earn a lot of money from producing amazing statistics on the field partially because they could not create a bidding war between teams for their talent. Flood may not have thought that the process was going to take as long as it did, as he probably lost more money than he would have gained by just signing with the Cardinals, but it was because of Flood’s actions that black and white players alike get offered deals in excess of $100 million on a yearly basis in today’s free agent market.
Even though racism was not nearly as prevalent in the game when Flood was going through his trials which started after the 1969 season, there was a new feeling of community that all of the players shared, especially the ones who still had qualms about playing with blacks, that here was a guy who was sacrificing his career in order to better everyone else’s. This built a certain togetherness among the players that was never present before as their player union became stronger by the year and to this day is continually making life better for the players (Nalbantian & Schotter, 1995, p. 2). Flood was a very good example of someone who was looked up to in the nationwide African American community as the hero that so many members of the black youth population needed (Carroll, “Early,” 2006, p. 35). It was also because of Flood’s actions that similar movements happened in the other major sports leagues.
One of the most significant events in the integration of baseball came on April 8, 1974, when Henry “Hank” Aaron, a black man, became the league’s all-time homerun king. One of the most symbolic integration incidents of this event in history happened when Aaron hit homerun number 715 to pass Babe Ruth. As he was approaching that mark, there were people all across America speaking out about his impending accomplishment and saying that he has no right to pass Ruth. The reason behind this was usually his skin color and not how he played the game. When he did hit the homerun, the crowd rushed the field, and as he was reaching third base a white man reached him and started to run with Aaron, congratulating him all the way (Rennert, 1993, p. 109). In some ways, this homerun symbolized to the public that not only were African Americans there to play, they were there to attempt to break records that were considered unbreakable, just like everyone else.
From the time when Robinson came into the league, it looked as though African Americans were there to stay, as their numbers climbed well into the late 1970s. After Robinson entered the league with the Brooklyn Dodgers, slowly but surely, every other team in the league started to integrate as they actually accepted the fact that they were missing out on an entire pool of talent. At that time, there were more African Americans in professional baseball than ever before, and perhaps because of that, the game was more popular than it had ever been. The number of African Americans during the 1970s reached an all time high, with just over thirty-five percent of the players being black. During the 1970s, not only were there more African Americans in the Major Leagues, but there were more African Americans at every level of the professional game and in college than at any time before or since (Hanssen, 1998, p. 622). This may have been because of the fact that America as a whole was becoming more and more welcoming to players, and people in general, who had different skin colors. This meant that more managers were going by the mantra of playing the best player available, regardless of what color they were.
Bill Jordan is a contributing writer to BaseballReflections.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS – The bibiliography will appear after the last (4th) part of this paper.