Why celebrate an egregious insult?

April 13, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

AS 50TH ANNIVERSARY celebrations go, this one is a bit of a bust. This week -- Tuesday to be exact -- marks year number 50 since Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball.

That April day in 1947 has long been revered by African-Americans as a great leap forward in the integration of American sports and society, an advance for the race. It's time we start calling April 15, 1947 what it actually was: an execrable and egregious insult.

This is meant as no disrespect for Robinson, who was a superb athlete, a dignified, intelligent man who handled everything that was thrown at him with grace and courage. But that's part of the insult. Just why Jackie Robinson had to endure what he endured has never been answered.

And what he endured was this: for two seasons, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey -- long championed as the progressive white hero who had the courage to sign Robinson to a major league contract -- stipulated that Robinson submit to racist insults and assaults without retaliating. It would have been the same as asking Joe Dimaggio or Lou Gehrig to accept those despicable terms used for Americans of Italian or German descent humbly and peacefully. They weren't, of course. Dimaggio, Gehrig and every other white ballplayer who played major league ball were admitted to the majors and evaluated strictly on their talent. Robinson had to prove that he could behave, that he was indeed civilized enough to be admitted to the world of big league baseball.

That, I contend, is insulting. The fact that blacks then or today don't recognize it as insulting doesn't mean it wasn't. And once this insult was in place, blacks had to face another, although we didn't recognize that as an insult either.

The second insult was this: Robinson wasn't even the best player in the Negro Leagues. That evaluation came from many Negro League players themselves, according to Mark Ribowsky's book "A Complete History of the Negro Leagues."

It is Ribowsky's book, in fact, that reveals the depth of the insult. One of those delivering some of the most insulting commentary was the great liberal hero himself, Branch Rickey.

"Rickey...went to lengths to admonish the black community against getting too carried away," Ribowsky wrote. "Rickey implored them not to make Robinson into a political cause celebre, not to stage 'parades and welcoming committees' or to hold 'Jackie Robinson Days.'

"...To pound home the point, baseball's self-styled Great Emancipator was blunt, some might have said offensive. 'You'll get drunk. You'll fight. You'll get arrested,' Rickey lectured his audience of well-heeled blacks, part of the growing black bourgeoisie. 'You'll wine and dine the player until he's fat and futile. You'll symbolize his importance into a national comedy and an ultimate tragedy.'"

This group of "well-heeled blacks" listened to Rickey spout this drivel without uttering a mumble of protest. Folks looking for acceptance will take any kind of insult, it seems. Apparently, one black player in the major leagues was worth the humiliation.

Now, some 50 years after African-Americans found themselves cheering the admission of one black player under insulting conditions, the complaint is that there are not enough black managers or front office people in major league baseball. But the Negro Leagues, despite their many flaws, did have black owners, managers and front office people. These businesses were integrated out of existence, because the black agenda circa the 1940s was to have black players integrate major league baseball instead of black teams en masse -- including owners, front office folks and players.

That's the typical black liberal integrationist mindset that has long retarded black economic development. Instead of emphasizing building, the integrationist mindset concentrates on begging -- for acceptance. But what would have benefited black Americans more? One man playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 or, for example, Abraham and Effa Manley's Newark Eagles entire organization being admitted to the National League, followed by other Negro League teams?

Rather than celebrate a 50-year anniversary of the integration of major league baseball, I'll continue to pray for the day when major league baseball has a plethora of black owners. But I won't be whooping it up this week.

I don't celebrate insults.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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