Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2013/ 21 Tishrei, 5774
A whole different ball game
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It was the national pastime that didn't include all the nation. Black ballplayers, whether they were stars or run-of-the-mill, weren't allowed in the major leagues back then -- or many minor ones for that matter. They were consigned to their own leagues, separate but unequal. Which was the case with a good many other American institutions at the time.
Some white fans might have heard the name
Yes, there were a few fair-minded, forward-looking types like Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the irrepressible Happy Chandler, who would become baseball's national commissioner and conscience in 1945, just as the Second World War was grinding down.
Happy Chandler would later say his conscience wouldn't let him tell black players they couldn't play in the majors after they'd fought for their country. But he knew better than to say such things out loud when he was baseball commissioner, or it would have cost him his job. Which it did when he began to speak up. After the club owners voted 15-to-Branch Rickey against integrating the majors, Chandler was not elected to a second term.
Happy Chandler was a one-man example of the conflicted, schizophrenic and just plain strange South I knew as a boy -- and thought perfectly natural.
Especially as baseball commissioner. The players' friend, he got them a better pension plan and proposed a minimum salary for major-leaguers (all of
Leo the Lip, who was famous for declaring that "nice guys finish last," never changed. He would be just as offensive 20 years later when he was managing the Cubs and I was writing editorials critical of him for the old
Happy Chandler would go on to back the Dixiecrats in 1948, but he called out the
The simplest explanation I can come up with is that racism drives even the best of us nuts. I know. Some of my best friends were -- and probably still are -- segs. (I've never believed in letting politics interfere with friendship. It's uncivilized, and solves nothing. It's also just plain un-Southern.)
That whole strange time came back to me when I took in the exhibit on black baseball now on through
There's no doubt about my favorite painting in this show -- for very personal reasons. It's
The backdrop is
As an Extra Added Bonus, as it used to say on the back of the cereal boxes (Wheaties and Post Toasties), the visitor to the museum gets a brief history of racial segregation and integration in minor-league ball here in
This exhibit has been lovingly assembled, you can tell, by a fan of baseball and America, which can be synonymous. Did you know the Hot Springs Bathers were thrown out of the old
The paintings, striking and charming and wonderfully out-of-date, take you back. To a place you don't ever want to go again. But, strangely enough, want to visit. Southerners will grow nostalgic for near about anything. Maybe because we remember the people -- black, white and other -- as real, and the racial stupidities, cruelties and just plain absurdities as abstractions superimposed on what mattered most. And in the South, what mattered most and still does is the personal. May it always be so.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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