has been understood to be a very crucial part of American society for years. Jacques
Barzun writes, “Whoever would understand the heart and mind of America had
better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game”. Even though baseball
was major deal to American society, it also had a huge impact on the
achievement of black equality America. The integration of Major League baseball
helped the legal and political landmarks of the Civil Right Movement. Rubinstein (2003) provides a historical
perspective of how the integration of baseball in 1945-47 set the stage for the
Civil Rights movement in the years that followed.
The major league was founded in 1876
and 1901 (Robinson, 2003, p. 20). There were always very few Major League teams:
between 1901 and 1960 there were only sixteen, all in the north-east of the
United States. New York for most of this period had three teams and Chicago had
two, but many large cities had none. Most had Minor League teams,
which were initially independent but gradually came to be taken over by the Majors as
‘farm teams’. There is, however, no promotion or relegation as in British
football. Together, the Major and Minor Leagues are known
as ‘Organized Baseball’.
author provides a description of Major League baseball, which in 1947,
consisted of sixteen privately-owned teams, all located in the north-east region
of the United States. Players were bound
to work for one team by the “reserve clause,” which was a standard part of all
Major League contracts. While there was
no written rule prohibiting blacks from playing Major League baseball, there
was an unwritten code which no owner was willing to break.
“American baseball was a conservatively run
game that did not welcome innovation.
Invariably, the owners of Major League clubs reflected traditional
values and were opposed to radical experiments of any kind (Rubinstein, 2003,
p. 22).” Rubinstein (2003) observes that the attitude
of the owners reflected those of American society in this era. Society was segregated across the country and
Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation throughout the South. Black Americans played separately, in the
Negro Leagues, where they “barnstormed” around the country while staying in
separate hotels and eating in separate dining facilities. “The best Negro League stars probably earned
about half as much as the best white players such as DiMaggio, but of course
vastly more than most, black Americans, especially during the Depression (p.
Change began in August 1945, when Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch
Rickey met with a Negro League player, Jackie Robinson, to discuss his becoming
the first black player in Major League baseball. Rickey, motivated by the desire to produce a
winning and profitable baseball club, chose Robinson because of his athletic
talent and his character. It was
critical that the player selected to integrate Major League baseball be prepared
to face harassment, racial insults and
threats of violence.
Robinson performed admirably in all measures during the
tumultuous season and throughout his
10-year career in the Major Leagues. In
1949 he was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. From a
historical standpoint, the integration of Major League Baseball was a factor of
the right people coming together at the right time to address a long-ignored
issue in the game and in American society.
With the conclusion of World War II, where Americans of all races and
ethnic backgrounds united to overcome a racist dictator in Hitler, the country
was primed for change. The Brooklyn
Dodgers and Major League baseball provided a visible platform for this change,
while the courageous actions of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson provided the
momentum. The author notes that Robinson’s importance is universally
acknowledged. He is viewed as one of the
most important players in baseball history, not only because of his influence
on the game but also because of his influence on the Civil Rights
movement. His presence in baseball
served as an inspiration for other black athletes that were to follow, and
provided an example about how integration could be successfully accomplished in
other facets of American society. I tend
to agree with Mr. Rubinstein’s conclusion, in many ways the integration of
baseball epitomizes the American spirit.