By: Dan Howard
@DaHermit16 on Twitter
On this weekend, we set aside to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, I wanted to use this forum to express my gratitude toward what he stood for. I also want to posthumously commend Jackie Robinson for his bravery in blazing a trail many have followed.
This year is an anniversary year for so many notable events in American history. The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, and the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Sadly, 2013 will also be remembered for the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, along with the 45th anniversary of two leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, and former Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
My first memory of Jackie Robinson was of him throwing out the first pitch before Game 1 of the 1972 World Series between the Oakland A’s and the Reds. Afterwards he was allowed to give a brief speech. His words were sharp and to the point; a frail man making a strong statement. He said he would not rest until he saw a black man in a dugout managing a baseball team. Mr. Robinson never lived to see Frank Robinson become the first black manager in baseball in 1975. Mr. Robinson died ten days after speaking in Cincinnati that brisk October afternoon.
Isn’t it funny how things go full circle? Here Jackie Robinson was speaking in a town that, years before, derided him so savagely. Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese, from nearby Louisville, Ky., embraced him on the field in a show of solidarity. Pee Wee later said, “You can hate a man for many reason, color is not one of them.” Players in St. Louis threatened to strike until Commissioner Happy Chandler, from Corydon, Ky., along with NL President Ford Frick said any striking player would be suspended.
Here in 2013, are we as a society living up to the words of Dr. King? Dr. King dreamt of a world where his children would grow up to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. While researching information about this article, I wanted to see how many African-American baseball managers there will be in the upcoming season. Three. Three? Texas’ Ron Washington, Houston’s Bo Porter and our own Dusty Baker. Add the Braves Fredi Gonzalez, then the ethnic diversity number jumps to four. With the number of talented African American players through the years only three are good enough to manage a Major League franchise? Why such low numbers? Is baseball doing all it can to reach minorities? Does there need to be an extension of Major League Baseball’s R.B.I. program to include impoverished rural areas, as well as the inner city? I know this is a sensitive subject but these are questions that need to be asked.
Baseball, like any sport, is handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes it is passed on by peers. I learned the game from my neighbor in Columbus, Ohio, Jimmy Csaki (pronounced Chucky), the son of immigrants who fled Hungary during the Russian invasion of 1956. Four years my senior, Jimmy showed me the basics. After my family moved to Inez, Ky. in 1972, my grandfather nurtured my love of baseball (my Dad really wasn’t much of a baseball fan, his sport was basketball).
When I was a child, baseball was king, although the monarchy was slowly fading. Everybody played the game, from young children to coal miners, who played for their company’s team. Now, either football or basketball is the sport of choice. Think about it, football costs nearly nothing to play, most schools in this area provide the equipment, a good pair of basketball shoes will set you back a hundred dollars or so, schools around here even have fundraisers to defray most of that cost, pumpkin rolls anyone? Baseball can be quite expensive, glove, bats, cleats, may cost upwards of three hundred dollars or more per child, depending on the equipment. If your kid is a catcher, mortgage your house. For those living from payday to payday, or on fixed incomes, that’s quite an expense. Please note: A two hundred dollar baseball glove will not help your child catch a ball any better than a thirty dollar one.
In my humble opinion, baseball needs to aggressively strive to become more diversified, not just in field management, but in the front office too. A USA Today article last April said African Americans comprised slightly over 8 percent of baseball rosters. By comparison, this season 10 percent of the teams have a black manager. I applaud MLB for its ability to distance itself from its segregated past, but the work is long from being completed. I urge Bud Selig and all the franchise owners to continue to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.
As a postscript, Jimmy Csaki was killed in an accident on September 18, 1977; I dedicate this article to his memory.
- Dan Howard