Civil Rights Game: Why Is MLB Honoring Racists?

As MLB never ceases to remind us of its role in breaking down the walls of segregation in America, witness last weekend’s annual “Civil Right’s Game”, it’s appropriate to also annually inform the public of the honors MLB continues to bestow on some of the highest profile racists in American history.

Baseball Hall of Fame Racists: Ford Frick, Tom Yawkey, Bill Harridge

To that end, BizOfBaseball’s Maury Brown recently unearthed a document from the six most powerful men in MLB in 1946.

The 27-page “steering committee” report was authored and approved by baseball Hall of Famers Tom Yawkey (Red Sox), William Harridge (American League), Ford Frick (Future MLB Commissioner) and Phil Wrigley (Cubs), Sam Breadon (Cardinals), and Lee McPhail (Yankees).

The report was expressly designed as a formal plea to all MLB owners to keep blacks out of MLB. More specifically, it was hastily written to block the impending admittance of Jackie Robinson into MLB by Branch Rickey of the Dodgers. (Robinson made his MLB debut six months after the report was published.)

Excerpts:

 “Certain groups in this country including political and social-minded drum-beaters, are conducting pressure campaigns in an attempt to force major league clubs to sign Negro players. Members of these groups are not primarily interested in Professional Baseball. They are not campaigning to provide a better opportunity for thousands of Negro boys who want to play baseball. They are not even particularly interested in improving the lot of Negro players who are already employed. They know little of baseball – and nothing about the business end of its operation. They single out Professional Baseball for attack because it offers a good publicity medium.”

“Those people that charge that baseball is flying a Jim Crow flag at its masthead – or that racial discrimination is the basic reason for failure of the major leagues to give employment to Negros – are simply talking through their individual or collective hats. Professional baseball is a private enterprise. It has to depend on profits for its existence, just like any other business.

“A situation might be presented, if Negros participated in Major League games, in which the preponderance of Negro attendance in parks such as Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Comiskey Park could conceivably threaten the value of Major League franchises owned by these clubs.”

After the secret document was circulated to all MLB clubs, Branch Rickey later called a meeting of the 16 most powerful men in MLB to formally ask them to allow him to promote Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. During the meeting, Rickey requested a secret ballot cast to see if he might have stealth support before going forward with his plan.

The vote? 15-1. The “1″ was Rickey.

Rickey later promoted Robinson anyway, as the racist-run MLB was loathe to draft a formal, verifiable document preventing the admittance of blacks into baseball. (Racists and cowards.)

From having written about this before, I know there are some of  you out there saying: “Brooks, why do you keep bringing this up … everyone knows Baseball Hall of Famers Yawkey, Frick and Harridge were racist, but they merely reflected the attitude of the times. There were plenty of other HOFers who shared their sentiment.

It’s fair to say that Yawkey, Frick and Harridge are far from the only racists in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But none of those other bigots actually signed their name to an official MLB document proclaiming their racism.

I don’t believe the people who run MLB today are racists, nor the folks charged with the stewardship of Cooperstown. But so long as they continue to harbor such verifiably detestable men inside baseball’s most hallowed shrine, they might consider saving the trailblazing charade.