WHY I WILL NOT BE CELEBRATING THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF JACKIE ROBINSON’S MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT

Although I am a baseball fan, I will abstain from the jubilant celebrations surrounding the 70th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of “Major League Baseball.” Where others see cause to celebrate, I mourn. From my perspective, this is yet another occasion that proves that African-Americans have made whites the measuring stick that they measure success. Such individuals apparently think that there is no greater sign of success than to close the physical gap between themselves and whites, no matter the cost. One thing is for certain, African-Americans foolish commitment to integrate with whites has repeatedly resulted in their ruin. Put simply; the integration of Jackie Robinson into major league baseball came at a steep cost to the entire community, particularly black baseball players and those men who owned Negro League teams.

Never mentioned in these annual celebrations of Robinson’s arrival to the Los Angeles Dodgers roster on April 15, 2017, is the economic ruin that resulted for the black community. The eventual disappearance of Negro League teams meant the loss of dollars within a community that had learned to circulate their monies as a result of racial segregation. Trust me when I say that the socioeconomic casualties, especially the loss of ownership of teams, are far too numerous to list in this space. Negro League teams such as the Atlanta Black Crackers, Cleveland Buckeyes, New York Black Yankees, and Kansas City Monarchs were not only a significant source of entertainment for the African-American communities that they were situated within, but also provided an opportunity for team ownership for African-American men such as Joe Green, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Tom Wilson.

By most accounts, Negro League players were more skilled and physically superior to their Major League counterparts. This statement even includes a folk-hero such as Babe Ruth whose talent was eclipsed by Josh Gibson; we must never forget that it was Gibson, not Ruth, who was the only man to ever hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium.

In hindsight, it made little sense for Negro League teams to disassemble and have its most acceptable, not necessarily most talented, pieces parceled out to white Major League teams. Although I could be wrong on this matter, I would hope that if the African-American community understood that the most significant consequence of Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball was the dismantling of the Negro Leagues and the ancillary decline of the African-American community’s socioeconomic viability that they would temper their celebration of Jackie Robinson donning “Dodger blue.”

Now please do not take this as a veiled call for the continuation of racial segregation in baseball or the nation in general, because it is not. However, it is a much-needed call to reconsider African-Americans rush to abandon their institutions for outside entities for no logical reason beyond it being owned by whites.

Make no mistake about it, the decline of the Negro Leagues was a hostile takeover by white baseball owners. If Major League Baseball power-brokers such as the frequently celebrated Branch Rickey were interested in actually integrating the sport, they would have pursued diversity throughout the entirety of the game from the outfield to the ownership boxes. There is precedent for such a move in professional sports as well.

There was a time when the National Basketball Association (NBA) had stiff competition from the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA). Now I do not want you to think that the ABA was some ragtag outfit composed of players who could not have played in the NBA. It was very similar to the Negro Leagues in that it featured incredibly talented players:

  • Julius “Dr. J.” Irving
  • Artis Gilmore
  • Connie Hawkins
  • Rick Barry
  • Spencer Haywood
  • Billy Cunningham
  • George McGinnis
  • George Gervin
  • Moses Malone
  • Dan Issel
  • David Thompson

Instead of “integrating” the ABA stars into NBA teams, NBA owners created a merger with the upstart league and agreed to accept the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets into their league. Players from the two remaining teams that folded were placed in a dispersal draft.

When placed within this context, there was absolutely nothing, outside of bigotry fueled institutional racism, preventing white Major League owners from creating a merger with the Negro Leagues and bringing several pre-existing franchises into their league. Although I am certain that many will charge that white fans would have boycotted inter-racial games, such an action would have had little impact on profits as African-American fans would have flocked to the games in droves with hopes that black baseball players would have proven their superiority once and for all. Despite it being relatively difficult to comprehend considering the popularity of football and basketball within Black America that there was a time when baseball was also Black America’s favorite pastime.

Unfortunately for Negro League owners and the black community, the price white team owners demanded their “acceptance” of African-American baseball players was the dissolving and absence of black ownership. From their perspective, African-Americans were only acceptable as disposable employees, not as owners possessing a voice in league operations. It is for these reasons that I cannot fully embrace Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut because it came at such a steep cost to the entire black community, a cost that is so enormous that we still to this day do not have an accurate tally. In fact, the vast majority of us are unaware of the tremendous collateral damage that the integration of the Major Leagues had upon the entire community.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.

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