Tag Archives: Brooklyn Dodgers

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2012

This year I offer a few thoughts of my own in commemeration of Dr. King and his legacy.  Today, we often mention “progress” when the topic of racial equality is raised — this being the initial focus of Dr. King’s efforts as an advocate for the downtrodden and marginalized, and later, with the same forceful advocacy that he brought to the cause of racial equality, the great injustice that was America’s war against the Vietnamese war and the economic poverty that was, and still is, very much a staple of life in America despite willfully false portrayals by our news and popular media to the contrary.  Certainly, true progress has been achieved since the days of institutionalized slavery, Jim Crow and Emmet Till.  Colored-only buses and restrooms are a thing of the past.  As are lynchings, at least in their most public and severe form.  If one were keeping score, one might even think of the glass as being half full without the sense of guilt and pity that more often than not lead to shortsightedness and undesirable outcomes.  Still one need not look too hard to see that much of what Dr. King fought against — the inequality, the senseless violence, the hate and cynicism — remains an intractable force in our society.  A few blocks from where Dr. King grew up here in Atlanta sits homes and storefronts long abandoned by those who succumbed to such a force.  Had Dr. King been able to see his old neighborhood and its surrounding communities in their present state, it is safe to say that “progress” is not the word that would have come to mind.

None of this, however, should be news.  The “pursuit of happiness” that is a founding principle of this country necessarily implies a culture of self-absorption and inequality, where one’s key to his or her own “happiness” often comes at the expense of another’s.  And blacks, in particular, have long been, and continue to be, the expendable ones in this equation.  And the election of our first “black” president has done nothing to change that.

There is time yet to reverse this trend.  And it takes not the writing or oratory of  a great thinker or scholar to do so.  Rather, the solution has been in front of our noses since time immemorial and has been posited in various forms to the general public.  Joe Black, a pitcher for the legendary 1950′s Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, did just in a university talk that was documented by Roger Kahn in his book, The Boys of Summer:

During a recent Honors Day Program at Virginia Union, a black university in Richmond, Black spoke about the responsibilities as well as the rewards of black power: “Our efforts have to be more positive than shouting, ‘Sock it to him, Soul Brother,’ or, ‘We are victims of a racist society,’ or, ‘Honkey!’ I’m in favor of black history because it makes whites realize that American blacks have done more than make cotton king. Rut I’m opposed to all-black dorms, and to violence. If the black student wants to use a loaded gun to make a point, what can we expect of uneducated blacks? By now some of you may be saying I’m a Tom, a window-dressing Negro. But I learned two things early.  A minority cannot defeat a majority in physical combat and you’ve got to let some things roll off your back.  Because my name is Joe Black, whites called me ‘Old Black Joe.’  After a few years of scuffling, I still hadn’t silenced all of them and throwing all those punches had made me a weary young man.  Call me ‘Old Black Joe’ today and you agitate nobody except yourself.”

He makes one point to everyone. It is bigotry to exalt the so-called special language of the blacks. “What is our language?” he asked. ” ‘Foteen’ or ‘fourteen.’ ‘Pohleeze’ for ‘police.’ ‘Raht back’ for ‘right hack.’ ‘We is going.’ To me any man, white or black, who says whites must learn our language is insulting.  What he’s saying is that every other ethnic group can migrate to America and master English, but we, who were born here and whose families have all lived here for more than a century, don’t have the ability to speak proper English.  Wear a dashiki or an African hairdo, but in the name of common sense, learn the English language. It is your own.”

At lunch, [Joe] handed me a sheet of paper.  “This is part of my philosophy,” he said.  “And by the way, notice the use of English vocabulary.”

I read:

blackball,

black hook,

black eye,

black friday,

black hand,

black heart,

blackjack,

black magic.

blackmail,

black market,

black maria,

black mark,

little black sambo,

white lies.

Black is Beutiful.

“If that’s what you make it, Joe,” I said.

“Well,” he said.  “You got the point.”

 

The Boys of Summer

Today I finished reading “The Boys of Summer” by Roger Khan.  It is part memoir, part history book.  Its subjects are, besides Khan himself, the players for the Brooklyn Dodgers, back when baseball was as much a community activity — played and watched — as it was a professional endeavor.   Khan was a beat writer for the New York Herald Tribune during the heyday of the Brooklyn Dodger team, right before it was moved to the West Coast by Walter O’Malley.  In his book, Khan chronicles his life as an up and coming reporter who would eventually earn a coveted opportunity and then position covering the Dodgers.  The latter half of the book is devoted to the players themselves but in their post-baseball days, in a form similar to that of Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times.”

There are many things to say about “The Boys of Summer.”  But I will limit myself to the following observations:

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers after winning the World Series (L. to R. D. Snider, C. Labine, G. Hodges, and R. Campanella)

(1) By and large, the players whom Khan profiled led productive lives after baseball.  These lives were by no means glamorous.  One player tended bars (Billy Cox), another installed elevators in what used to be the World Trade Center (Carl Furillo).  But they were nevertheless purposeful lives that transcended professional baseball and its trappings of fame and glory.

(2) Money was just as important for baseball front office officials back in the 1950′s as it is in today’s game where players are given multi-million dollar contracts and  blustery high-priced agents put  on smoke-and-mirrors shows.  The amount of money involved in today’s game is of course multitudes greater than the paltry sums that were, for instance, paid to Duke Snider, then considered the league’s premier slugger.  And this rings true even when one accounts for every possible economic variable out there (inflation, cost-of-living, etc).

This raises an interesting question of whether players today envision leading productive lives after their playing careers are over.  I would venture to guess that they do not judging from the astronomical salaries that are demanded and ultimately paid.  But can one blame them?  Playing baseball day in and day out prepares one for little else besides, well, playing baseball.  And in today’s increasingly technical and skill-driven world, this does not bode well for the job-search prospects of the modern professional athlete.  Factor in the advent of free agency and the near certainty of permanent physical debilitation and one almost expects that today’s slugger or ace pitcher be paid up the wazoo.

Why then do we still hear people complain about overpriced ball players?  (A-Rod comes promptly to mind.)  Surely, this is a some reflection that there exists a disconnect between current salaries and what the average person thinks a professional ball player should be making.  This disconnect has in fact driven a number of folks from the game entirely.  Does this mean that a return to the “glory days” of baseball is in order?  A time when players were treated less like celebrities and more like Joe from around the corner or when the off-season was just as often spent working part-time as a grocery store clerk as it was spent conditioning one’s body for next season.  Is it reasonable to expect that players today not bank on their major league careers as the only time in their lives during which they will be productively employed in some shape or form?  And taking that one step further, would it be reasonable to expect that today’s player accept some kind of non-baseball related employment once their playing careers end?

These are questions that I pose to you, the reader, in hope of generating a discussion about this topic with baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike.