Racism and America’s pastime

Americans like to think that we have moved beyond issues of race, ethnicity and skin color-that those issues are problems of the past.

Here in Utah, where the average citizen probably has never even known a black person personally, that feeling of equality is especially strong. Despite the progress we have made breaking down the barriers of skin color, however, we are still steeped in the filth of racism-and those who think it’s already gone need to be especially active in recognizing and ridding it from society.

For 75 years of professional baseball, some of the very best baseball players were shut out, degraded and not allowed to play. Not until 1947 were African Americans accepted into the major leagues, and it didn’t come easily.

Jackie Robinson faced persecution, beatings and constant degradation from the hands of American white men. Robinson answered these actions by saying, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me? All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”

Unfortunately for Robinson, baseball pundits and fans alike still disrespect former black baseball players.

When you read record statistics for the most home runs hit in a season or a career, whose numbers do you hear about? You hear about Hank Aaron hitting 754 in a career and Babe Ruth hitting 714. When you hear about the most home runs in a season, you hear about Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, both of whom have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. When you hear about the best batting average, you automatically hear about Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson and Roger Hornsby.

Do we ever hear that there was a catcher who is thought to have hit over 1,000 home runs in his career? Do we hear about that same player hitting more than 80 home runs in a single season? Did you know there was another player who retired with a .376 batting average, 10 points more than Ty Cobb?

You probably don’t hear about players like Josh Gibson or Oscar Charleston because they were black. Their records don’t count because sports enthusiasts dismiss Negro League stats, claiming that records in the old Negro Leagues are not terribly accurate.

This thought process reaches back to the days of Jim Crow laws, when people dismissed Frederick Douglass’s autobiography as inauthentic because “no black man could ever write such a fine piece of literature.”

Artie Wilson, the last professional baseball player to have a batting average more than .400 in a single season, said of those who dismiss Negro League stats, “Some might say it doesn’t count because I did it in the Negro Leagues? Well, if I hit .400 in the Negro Leagues, I probably would have hit more in the majors because I’d have gotten better pitches to hit.”

Until the stats of Negro League players are counted among the titans of professional baseball, our national pastime will remain tainted by its segregated past.

Keep this in mind, as the next season is set to start April 3. While many U students have jumped on the Red Sox fan bandwagon in recent years, it is important to remember that the Boston Red Sox were the very last team in the major leagues to allow black players to play. Keep that in mind when you buy your next hat.

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