Yesterday was the anniversary of a famous day in baseball and American race relations history. From Nationalpastime.com:
May 13, 1947: During the pregame infield practice, a barrage of racial slurs is directed at Jackie Robinson by the Cincinnati fans during the Dodgers’ first visit to Crosley Field this season. Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a Southerner from Kentucky with friends attending the game and captain of the team, engages the black infielder in conversation, and then put his arm around his teammate’s shoulder, a gesture that stuns and silences the crowd.
This episode in the well-known saga of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball has taken on the status of legend. It is in the (excellent) biopic about Robinson, “42.” It was re-told in Ken Burns’ documentary “Baseball.” Most enduring of all, the moment is memorialized forever in the statue outside Dodger Stadium—well, forever until Robinson or Reese is cancelled because something unforgivable is unearthed in their past, whereupon UCLA students will pull the thing down as progressives cheer.
I’m preparing a program for the Smithsonian Associates on how baseball has influenced American values, culture, politics, language and society, so it is of special interest to me that there is considerable controversy over whether Reese’s mid-game gesture ever happened. Writes much-lauded baseball essayist Joe Posnanski,
“There is no mention at all of the embrace in the newspapers. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that very day that Robinson “was applauded every time he stepped to the plate.” Meanwhile, there is no mention of it in the black press either; Burns insists that the embrace had happened, the black papers “would have done 15 related articles.” There is no photo of it. Robinson’s 1948 book about his first season called “Jackie Robinson: My Own Story” does not mention any such incident….There isn’t a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines.”
Theories abound. The episode happened on a different date. It happened, but not in view of the fans. It is a story that accurately describes what Reese’s support of Robinson—Reese was a white southerner and a team leader, and he and Robinson did become close friends—meant to the black rookie as he battled abuse and racism in that first season of 1947, but there was no literal arm around the shoulder. Craig Calcaterra, recycling the controversy yesterday on his NBC blog, theorized, Continue reading
And that lesson is: sportswriters have no clue when it comes to ethical analysis, or any other kind of analysis, really.
Tomorrow the results of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting will be announced, and those former stars receiving at least 75% of the vote will be officially enshrined as immortals. Every year before the steroid era, the voting was preceded by weird arguments that made no sense, like the one about whether a former player should be a “first time electee.” Some writers would concede that a given player was great enough for the Hall, but not vote for him because “he wasn’t good enough to get in on the first ballot.” This was, and is, ridiculous, and unfair. The question is, “Was this player great enough to deserve enshrinement, when the standards are unchanging?” It’s a yes or no question. “Maybe next year” is not a valid answer.
Thus I suppose that it should be no surprise that these same clods, faced with some really difficult ethical lines to draw in the wake of the so-called steroid era, show themselves to be not merely dunces, but ethics dunces as well. I just heard a sportswriter, Marty Noble, tell a baseball talk show that he won’t vote for any player about whom there is any question whatsoever regarding whether he cheated with steroids, including doubts based on rumors, whispering campaigns, looks, suspicions and drug tests. But he still voted for some players, he says. Well, that’s just wrong, by his own standards—he can’t be 100% sure about anyone. He also said that while he can vote for up to ten players, and agreed that there are more than ten players this year who have strong Hall credentials, he’s only voting for three. Why? Because, he says, the induction ceremony is too long.
Yes, he’s an idiot. Continue reading
Picked off first, Kolten Wong curses the fates…
Just as baseball’s post season was starting, I wrote a post about how U.S. society’s flawed use of consequentialism to judge merit, wisdom and ethics is encouraged by our sporting events. The example I used was an old one, from the 1968 World Series, which I consider to be a classic and extreme example. This morning, the great sports essayist Joe Posnanski addressed the same issue, focusing on an event in last night’s weird World Series game, which ended like none other in post season history. With two outs and the potential tying run at the plate, Boston relief pitcher Koji Uehara picked off St.Louis pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end the game and stop the Cardinals’ most dangerous sluggers from batting with a chance to tie or win the game. Posnanski marvels at how what he considers a foolish decision to station the first baseman near the base for a pick-off throw had good results, and how hard it is for us to focus on process rather than results. He is, of course, talking about the appeal of consequentialism, and the way baseball encourages it. I beat him to it by almost a month, but Posnanski amplifies the point nicely. Here’s Joe: Continue reading