BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
No longer viewed as the most popular sport in the United States, the game known as “America’s Pastime” remains America’s most rebellious conundrum. Since its inception, professional baseball has basked in the light given to players who are a reflection of a flawed society, however, yesterday the game’s caretakers decided to continue to embrace their most detested players while shunning its most emphatic players.
Major League Baseball has long attempted to distance itself from a storied past of tolerated racism, while capitalizing mightily on the feats of the very same racists. The transgressions and verbiage of former Detroit Tiger and Philadelphia Athletic Ty Cobb have been pardoned under the “product of his environment” defense. Babe Ruth is widely regarded as the game’s greatest hitter, despite facing specific and racially selected opposition.
Those two are baseball’s biggest pillars; more importantly, Cobb and Ruth were the biggest benefactors of “selective service.” Would Ruth, or Cobb for that matter, have comprised such an impressive resume if standing before them were the likes of Smokey Joe Williams who posted a 20-7 record in “barnstorming exhibitions” including at least one no-hitter. Bill “Cannonball” Jackman who ruled the segregated New England sandlots where Negros played. One cannot forget the likes of John Donaldson, the arsenal of Willie Foster, and the incomparable Satchel Page.
Most historians agree, pitching while great in the Caucasian league, paled in comparison to the everyday pitching in the Negro league. On MLB’s very own website these words are on display “As great as Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Addie Joss and Lefty Grove were, each had his equal, if not his superior, in black baseball.”
Many if not all of Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame members who played until the 1950’s rest comfortably in the game’s most cherished destination, despite amassing numbers in a watered down league voided of the world’s best. Speculation and disdain do not accompany these players and they should not, their exploits while set in the most despicable of settings should be honored.
The game of baseball reflects our beauty as a country, as well as our blemishes as countrymen. No man walking this surface is perfect, therefore perfection should not be bestowed upon them, and while it is difficult to accept the decisions of some of the games magnificent, we as a society must forgive them.
It is paramount that the lessons of baseball’s forefathers be a tutorial for the game of life, in conjunction with the game of baseball. Fans were robbed of watching the aforementioned Satchel Page and his unhittable fastball meet the likes of Cobb, just as we were robbed of watching the great Josh Gibson get his chance to slaughter a Lefty Grove pitch.
The stubbornness of man is what deprived us of these epic battles, and just as today’s “purest” claim to have the Pastime’s best interest at heart, it is their own scorn that sits prominently in the way of progression.
Just as Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (baseball’s first Commissioner) led the egregious unwritten law of refusing to allow the game’s most skilled combatants the privilege of competing against each other regardless of race, the Hall’s voters are blocking the game’s best from their rightful resting place. Their logic, much like Judge Landis’, is reluctance to acceptance.
Landis’ refusal to allow Negro ballplayers in MLB cannot just be charged to unbridled hate and racism, while very easy to do so. Landis’issue was bitter scorn, incogitable arrogance married to fear. It was bitter scorn for those who pursued contrast from the accepted norm and a fear that this behavior or action would destroy the utopia Landis ruled over.
It was Landis’ arrogance, and perhaps a slight god complex, that compelled the Commissioner to have a sit down with Black Newspapers Publishers Association. Landis accompanied by every owner in the Majors sat and listened to prominent black writers explain the necessity of having Black ballplayers in the Majors. In fact, it was Landis who gave a thoughtful speech when presenting singer-activist Paul Robeson calling him “a great American.”
However, it was not until the Judge’s death that Jackie Robinson would break the National League color line. There is no written proof that during Commissioner Landis’ reign Black ballplayers were not allowed in major league baseball, there is just the fact that none played.
It appears Landis’ selective judgment has resurfaced in the form of the current Hall-of-Fame gatekeepers, and once again the emotion those men used in justifying their most recent decision is just as estranged from logic.
Barry Bonds’ records, Mark McGwire’s records, and Roger Clemens’ records are just as flawed as any other player’s achievements during segregated play. Just as we have welcomed and championed those players from yesterday, the same jubilee should be displayed for today’s players.
All of these men were and are supremely flawed and drastically imperfect. Bonds just like Ruth destroyed inferior opponents with superior talent, and Ruth just like Bonds benefited by “selective competition”. The difference is Bonds benefited from substance, while Ruth benefited from segregation.
The circumstances surrounding Bonds are heinous and surely conjure doubt, but suspicion is not truth and should never trump fact.
The fact remains that Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire dominated their era and deserve a seat next to other players who used hideous circumstances to dominate theirs.
It was Landis who blocked integration and consequently created an atmosphere that congratulated the ends, while enthusiastically disregarding the means. Here we sit almost one hundred years later, attempting to play god yet again.
His-story has accepted the flaws of segregation and the results of that time period. The precedent has been set and unless his-story plans on removing every player who used anything from the ridiculous to the grotesque to aid them in their pursuit of greatness, now is not the time to repeat “selective service.”
The definition of a Hall-of-Fame player is simple; a player judged outstanding in their sport. Barry Bonds by definition is a Hall-of-Fame baseball player, just as Babe Ruth is. Roger Clemens by definition is a Hall-of-Fame baseball player, just as Ty Cobb is.
If judged by the merits of their play these players deserve a chance to rest alongside the best in game. Unfortunately, someone or some people have decided that their play is not how they should be judged. Just as Landis used an unwritten code to keep the game “pure”, today’s writers have used an unwritten code to keep the hall “pure.”
Following in the footsteps of pioneering sportswriter Wendell Smith, we must fight this injustice, and let field of play be the only deciding factor. After all we can forgive Cobb, Landis and Ruth, but only those who are a glutton will forget them.