By Ken Reed

I enjoy Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day every year. Robinson deserves to be honored in recognition of all the abuse he took while breaking baseball’s color barrier and for the positive impact he had on civil rights in this country. And it’s cool seeing every MLB player wearing Robinson’s number 42 one day a year.

But MLB always brushes aside the ugly racism that existed for decades before Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And they don’t mention anything about how long it took MLB as a whole to fully integrate after Robinson first played for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947 . Moreover, there’s never any mention about how MLB basically stole the top players from the Negro Leagues and eventually killed off Black-owned and Black-run businesses by not integrating Negro Leagues employees in any way into white baseball.

Craig Calcaterra addresses this issue head-on in his April 13th “Cup of Coffee” column:

“(F)or the 20th straight time since they began formally commemorating Jackie Robinson Day in 2004, there will be little if any official discussion of Major League Baseball’s role in keeping baseball racially segregated for most of its first century of existence and how, actually, Jackie Robinson’s debut didn’t really integrate baseball in any substantive way given how most of the teams dragged their feet, adhered to unofficial ‘we can only have two Black players at a time’ rules, or simply refused to integrate until absolutely forced to and then only did it in a half-assed way until at least the 1960s.

“Finally, there will, once again, be no acknowledgment, let alone a commemoration of how Major League Baseball simply cherrypicked the best talent from the Negro Leagues, did almost nothing to bring non-stars, minor leaguers, managers, coaches, executives, trainers, or team staff from the Negro Leagues into the AL or NL, and thereby let a huge ecosystem of Black-owned and Black-run businesses simply crash and burn, almost certainly by design.”

Jackie Robionson Day is April 15th. It’s fine to enjoy the festivities and reflect upon what Jackie Robinson meant to baseball, sports and our country as a whole. But it’s also healthy to take a couple minutes to think about what MLB is washing over regarding an ugly part of its history.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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