I am going to stop for a second, and give pause to my dissection of the Yankees lineup for 2016. It is something that is not that important at all. I mean really it means nothing when compared to some of the things that are going on in the world. Although I do like to say to my wife that in itself is one of the beautiful things about baseball. The way that it does not matter at all who is hitting below par, whether Tanaka’s arms will last 200 innings, or Sabathia will be better with the brace on? But for a little while I can sit back, listen to the games, or watch a game, eating a veggie hot dog, having a beer, and enjoying the feel of a warm breeze on my face as spring and summer take hold and pretend that those things do matter. Those moments for me are more pleasurable than I can explain to someone who doesn’t like baseball. Because they take away the ugly things of the world. For just a little while during the day, I can sit back and think about nothing major, just how are my Yanks doing, and how are the other teams doing, whether it will impact on our place in the division. As a person who has depressive tendencies, baseball is a tonic.
But there are times when even baseball is something that needs to be looked at, and the simple pleasure of the game takes on a darker side. In America there is a now commonplace story. A black youth- most likely male- is gunned down by a police officer who uses self defence as a reason to plug someone full of bullets. Never mind that even if a person is a legitimate threat to the safety of the officer and the public, one shot to the leg or shoulder would be good enough to neutralise that threat. I know this as I served in the armed forces in Ireland during the Troubles and had learned that it was better to shoot a person in the leg or shoulder and end the threat he posed while preserving his life in order to ensure he was arrested and served justice. It was drilled into us in training. There was also the cold blooded reasoning that a dead man needs no treatment while soldiers are more likely to stop shooting to help an injured comrade who could live, but that is not the point for now.
The inexplicable fact that the police are gunning these guys down, often emptying the magazine into the poor man when he is lying on the ground immobile is shocking because often the deciding factor in whether the police shoot is the same, the one thing that all these men have in common is that they are black. Whether it is old fashioned prejudice ie that it is okay to shoot them because they are black, or just paranoia based on the preconception that black people are violent and dangerous, it matters not. Anyone with even a slight sense of humanity would be, should be, appalled that it is possible in America, even still, for a man to be killed simply because he is black.
Beyonce has drawn a lot of flack over the last few weeks, due to her Superbowl performance in which she drew on iconic black rights imagery that had turned away from peaceful non violence of Dr Martin Luther King, to the ideas that black people must protect themselves and fight. Now I am more of a non violent kind of guy. But I could appreciate that she was using her art to demonstrate against, and raise awareness of, the killing of black people by police officers who often hide behind their uniforms to commit acts of cold blooded murder, fabricating evidence to back up their evil crimes.
That the police forces have denounced her protest as racist and anti-police, tells us how ingrained the violence and hatred of the black people really is in the police force. Instead of trying to say that this is not acceptable within the police forces, for their officers to operate a shoot to kill policy towards black men, they have thrown their lot in with the racist officers who kill with little fear or prospect of being held to account. They see an attack on officers who kill for no reason as an attack on the police. How sad!!!
What is even worse is that there are growing protests among NY Mets fans who have taken to calling for a boycott of the Mets unless they cancel Beyonce’s concert at Citifield. This is where the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the denouncing of Beyonce link with baseball. When you think that the Mets have taken on the spirit of the Dodgers, wearing the old blue colour, even making the front façade of their new ball club look like old Ebbets Field. Where better for baseball to show that they do not agree with the killing of often unarmed black youth than in the place that traces its heritage to the place where the colour line was broken. If they have any links with Jackie Robinson as they claim then they should and must NOT bow to pressure. They must not let the Cap Ansons of the world raise their ugly banner of racial hatred, and win.
Cap Anson was a giant of the baseball world back in the 1800s. He was, as players go, one of the finest. His numbers are still impressive, and puts him up there with some of the greats of the game. Even though he is dead over 100 years now he still holds the Cubs’ career records for Average (.339), Runs (1,712), Hits (3,081), Singles (2,330), Doubles (530) and RBIs (1,879). Impressive is it not?
The only trouble with him is that as personalities go, he was one of the ugliest. It was his single handed, unrelenting ugly racism that pushed for the ban on players of colour entering the game. It began with his ugly wrangling on day in August 1883 when his Chicago White Stockings (now called The Cubs) played an exhibition game against the Toledos who would in time become known as the Mud Hens. At that time they had on their team one Moses Walker, officially the first black Major Leaguer and the last for 68 years before Jackie Robinson took the field for the Dodgers. Anson had said he would not play there if Walker was on the field. Toledo’s manager kept him on the bench, which he thought was sufficient for the game to go ahead. But such was the depth of Anson’s ugly hatred that he demanded that they man be removed from the ball park. This got under the skin of the Toledo manager who then put Walker in the game. There was a brief interlude of heated discussions in which Anson used a whole tonne of racial epithets. However the Toledos prevailed and the game went ahead. Money talks after all and Anson was told if he didn’t play his team would forfeit their share of the gate receipts. But it was that moment that old wicked pants Cap decided that he would become a grade A dirt bag and began to drive black players no matter how good they were out of the game.
He was almost fanatical about not having a black player in the Majors. However he did not object to having a mascot in form of one Clarence Duval, a young black kid that he gloried in treating like dirt, even going so far as to have on a dog leash, parading him around like some animal.
Now the fact that he was inducted into the Hall Of Fame on the basis of his numbers is one thing. But his role in dehumanising a large number of the American population simply because of their skin colour, and staining the National Pastime with the ugliness of racism seems not even to get a mention in the Hall Of Fame Museum. Just read his biography from the HOF online Anson’s HOF Biography and you will see that they give no account of his role in barring blacks from organised baseball. Now I am not one of those people who feel that iconic figures from history should be removed from history or places of honour if they are there on the merit of their actions as Anson’s actions clearly merit him being among the greats of the game purely in baseball terms. But they need to add the footnote that in his actions off the field, he damaged baseball, he treated a black boy as though he was a dog, he was as a man, one of the foulest. For the Hall of Fame to not acknowledge that he almost single-handedly drove black players from the professional game for 68 years, is a terrible omission. For him to be in the same vaunted company as Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson who worked hard to end the ugly work of his own hand, without even so much as an acknowledgement that he was the architect of the colour barrier, is a great disgrace. One I hope the Hall Of Fame will end.
This is what was said about him when he was inducted into the Hall Of Fame when it was opened in 1939…
“For years he stood at first base for Chicago like a might oak, sturdy, blunt, and honest, the captain who was always kicking at decisions, the one prominent player who was loyal to the National League at the time of the Brotherhood crisis, the symbol of all that was strong and good in Baseball. ” ….. Lee Allen, Historian, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Think about that… he is hailed on his biography as being the symbol of all that was strong and good in baseball… why not mention that he also is the symbol of what is ugliest about it, and American society.
Where this links in with the current climate in America however is simple. The States have not progressed in all these years. Nearly 100 years ago, the same black men that served the US in the First World War, still returned to a country where they could find themselves lynched merely because a mob of white men felt they could kill a black man under the guise of pursuing justice. In that time things have moved on, a black man twice was elected president. But what little progress has been made. When black people still risk being killed in a summary execution, and when like Cap Anson white bigots cry out “get that N- of the field.” In the hope that Citifield cancels Beyonce’s show.
I hope that the owner of the Mets say no to the ugly cries of racists who are trying to stop those who are striving to raise the awareness of an ugly mark on the national character. To say that the murder of black men must stop is not the same as being anti police. It is not the same as being racist. Baseball needs to show they will not make the same mistakes of the past, and give in to racists, no matter who they are, or how prominent they in the national psyche. They have a chance to right a wrong, a wrong they still seem slow to acknowledge. If the Mets stand up to these calls, then I, even though I am a Yankee fan, shall cheer for them with gusto, because these are the times when what happens on the ballpark does matter, does mean something. This is one of those times.