Few teams integrated as slowly or reluctantly as the Yankees

9 10 2015

I should acknowledge the elephant in the clubhouse: Few teams integrated as slowly as the Yankees.

This post concludes a series on continuing racial discrimination in baseball, in a blog that normally focuses on the Yankees, so I have to acknowledge my favorite team’s part of that shameful history.

A 2013 Pinstripe Alley post by Steven Goldman details the Yankees’ initial resistance to integration of baseball, then its leisurely minor-league “development” of future All-Stars Vic Power and Elston Howard, who clearly were beyond ready for the big leagues. The Yankees traded Power and didn’t bring Howard up to the majors until he was 26, in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

In this context, it is no excuse that the Yankees won the World Series in 1947, the year Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then won five World Series in a row from 1949-53. Maybe for a year or two you could say that the Yankees’ success excused their reluctance to integrate (if you’re looking past the moral aspect).

But I cut the Yankee leadership of that time no slack. They got a good look in four of those World Series at the dynamic impact on the Dodgers of such African Americans as Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. And in the 1952 Series, the Yankees saw the greatness that Willie Mays and Monte Irvin brought to the Giants. And they played in the same city with those guys. They should have seen that aggressive recruitment of African American and Latino players would help continue, strengthen and extend their dynasty. But they worried that attracting African American fans to the ballpark would turn away white fans.

From Manager Casey Stengel to executives Larry MacPhail and George Weiss, the Yankee leadership was slow to recognize the injustice of racial exclusion and the improvement that integration brought to baseball. All those great Yankee teams of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s achieved their records and dynasties without facing some of the best players in baseball: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck O’Neil and the other stars of the Negro Leagues.

Only the Phillies, Tigers and Red Sox were all-white longer than the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »

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Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players

6 10 2015

If you’re a borderline candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it sure helps to be a white guy.

Rules, standards and the election process to the Hall of Fame have changed a lot over the years, but one thing is certain: Except for special committees to consider Negro League players, the voting has always been skewed toward white players.

As I noted in the last post, only one Latino player (Orlando Cepeda) and one African American player (Larry Doby) have been chosen to the Hall of Fame by Veterans Committees, the second-chance committees that have chosen most white players in the Hall of Fame.

Part of that is a function of time. Baseball was integrated in 1947, so a player starting a 20-year career in 1950 would retire in 1970. That player then would have to wait five years before going on the writers’ ballot (1975), then, if not elected by the writers, would not become eligible for Veterans Committee consideration until about 1995. So we’ve had roughly 20 years of Veterans Committee consideration of retired black and Latino “major” league players.

And that timetable has pretty much worked out. Three minority players (other than Negro Leaguers) were elected to the Hall of Fame before 1975:

  • Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947 and played only 10 years in the “majors.”
  • Roy Campanella, Robinson’s Dodger teammate who started playing in 1948 and whose career was curtailed by a car accident in 1957.
  • Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972. The Hall of Fame waived the five-year waiting period and he was elected immediately, the first Latino in the Hall of Fame.

After those three, Ernie Banks‘ election to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1977 started a steady stream of black and Latino Hall of Famers. He was one of nine selected over the next 10 years. Read the rest of this entry »