Continued from Part I of 108 Red Stitches tribute to African American Ballplayers, part of a week long series honoring Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr.

After his discharge from the Army, Robinson soon found himself in a new uniform; the uniform of the Kansas City Monarchs, a baseball team in the Negro League. At the time Robinson began playing for the Monarchs, the Negro League had just suffered a setback in attempts to break down the color barrier in baseball. Major League baseball was looking for excuses to keep black players out of the league and eventually struck gold in the form of the black press. In his novel Baseball’s Great Experiment, Jules Tygiel discusses the actions of a prominent member of the black press, Sam Lacy.

“Lacy and other black writers frequently criticized the absence
of fundamentals in the Negro Leagues. Some black athletes
excelled in hitting or fielding or base running, Lacy contended,
but few demonstrated the all-around talent necessary for
success in the majors” (Tygiel; 84).

In attempts to jump start or motivate the players in the Negro Leagues, Lacy wrote “I am reluctant to say that we haven’t a single man in the ranks of colored baseball who could step into the major league uniform and disport himself after the fashion of a big leaguer” (Tygiel; 84). This comment gave the authorities of “white baseball” something to build off of. If their own press didn’t believe that blacks could play in the majors, why should we give them a chance to prove themselves?
Robinson would continue to play for the Monarchs as the racially driven debate continued. Robinson wasn’t the best player in the Negro Leagues, so it was a surprise to him when the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers approached him with an offer to play for his franchise. In an essay written by Peter Dreier titled “Jackie Robinson’s Legacy; Baseball, Race and Politics” the topic of “baseball’s great experiment” is discussed. Dreier writes;

“He (Branch Rickey) knew that if the Robinson ‘experiment’
failed, the cause of baseball integration would be set back for
many years thereafter. He could have chosen other Negro
League players greater talent or name recognition, but he
wanted someone who could be what today we call a ‘role-model’.
Robinson was articulate and well educated. Although born in the
segregated Deep South, he lived among whites in his Pasadena
neighborhood, at school, and in college, and he played on
integrated sports teams.” (44).

Branch Rickey invited members of the press to attend the signing of Robinson to a major league contract. Once the press realized why they had been invited, the room fell eerily quiet. The writers realized this was the beginning of a new era in baseball, and frankly, they did not know how to handle the situation. In a sign of the times Al Parsley, of the Montreal Herald, wrote in his article of Robinson “His color is the hue of ebony. By no means can he be called a brown bomber or a chocolate soldier” (Tygiel; 72). This was a chance for the members of the press to introduce a new ballplayer to the world, but all they could concentrate on was the color of his skin.
Members of the white press began to doubt Rickey’s selection of Robinson to break the barrier. Will Connally, a sportswriter from San Francisco, spearheaded that belief. Connally considered one of Robinson’s U.C.L.A. teammates, Kenny Washington, to be a better pioneer. Connally wrote “Kenny is a ‘white man’, a nice guy. [He] quoted Californians as saying, “Robinson, he’s a troublemaker” (Tygiel; 75-6).
The black press (or members within the black press) treated this situation far more differently than the white press did. Jules Tygiel writes “black newspapers placed the Robinson story on the front page, hailed the breakthrough in their editorials, and devoted a substantial proportion of their papers to the event” (Tygiel; 78-9). Robinson was quickly elevated to the same platform that held the likes of Joe Louis and Branch Rickey quickly became popular in many black communities.
Once Robinson signed on with the Dodgers, he was assigned to their farm team located in Montreal. The Dodgers hoped this would give him some shelter from the American media that would eventually try to break him. A year before Robinson would make his debut with the Dodgers, New York Times columnist Roscoe McGowen wrote in one of his articles “A bit of tradition was shattered today when Negroes were seated throughout the stands. Heretofore they have sat only in the small bleachers back of first base reserved for them. Possibly the Jackie Robinson influence...” (McGowen). In his essay “The Greatest Season, From Jackie Robinson to Sammy Sosa”, Roger Kahn writes about the task Robinson was about to undertake;

“With precious little help from the press, the umpires, and the
other ball players, Jackie Robinson integrated major league
baseball in 1947. [...] The policy of segregation that began in
1885 was unofficial and absolute. No documents attest to
baseball’s apartheid. There was simply an understanding among
every major league club owner and every minor league club owner
for more than sixty years that no blacks could play in so-called
organized ball.” (Kahn; 38).

Robinson’s entry into the league caused quite a stir amongst baseball officials. An article ran in the New York Times with different officials perspectives on Branch Rickey’s newest signing. Frank Shaughnessy, the president of the International League (where Robinson would play in the minors) confirmed what Kahn had written in his article on race relations in baseball;

“There’s no rule in baseball that says a Negro can’t play with a
club in organized ball. As long as any fellow’s the right type and
can make good and can get along with other players, he can play
ball” (Club Heads Give Views; 17).

Clark Griffith, the President of the Senators believed that baseball had no right “stealing” players from the Negro Leagues when he stated “The only question that occurs to me is whether organized ball has the right to sign a player from the Negro League. That is a well-established league and organized baseball shouldn’t take their players. The Negro league is entitled to full recognition as a full-fledged baseball organization” (Club Heads Give Views; 17). In short, Griffith was stating that blacks should stay where they belong, in the Negro Leagues. Horace Stoneham’s response to the signing of Robinson wasn’t much brighter; “the primary responsibility we have is finding places for our returning Service men, numbering into the hundreds, and only if they prove incapable will new players (blacks) be placed on our clubs.” (Club Heads Give Views; 17).

To be continued.