This steering committee document from
1946, after Branch Rickey had signed
Jackie Robinson, shows that league
execs were advising the league not to
At the Reds’ Great American Ballpark, the likes of Willie Mays, Bud Selig, and Jimmie Lee Solomon are taking part in festivities around the annual Civil Rights Game between the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. The intent of the game is to "embrace baseball's history of African-American players."
Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier has been seen as a watershed moment for baseball, and MLB has taken incredible efforts to outline that fact by hosting Jackie Robinson Day, and having Robinson’s #42 retired throughout baseball.
But, MLB did not go willingly into the integration of baseball. In fact, even as Robinson was playing with the Dodgers’ Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1946, an internal steering committee memo laid out in stark terms that the league should not integrate.
(see page 20 of the internal 1946 steering committee memo)
The Joint Major League Steering Committee document dated August 27, 1946 consisted of Ford Frick, Sam Breadon, Philip Wrigley, William Harriadge, L.S. McPhail, and Thomas Yawkey. Under the Section X entitled “Race Question”, the committee begins by saying, “The appeal of Baseball is not limited to any racial group. The Negro takes great interest in baseball and is, and always has been, among the most loyal supporters of Professional Baseball.” The memo then adds, “The American people are primarily concerned with the excellence of performance in sport rather than color, race or creed of the performer.”
But, after highlighting how men of color have supported the game, the following paragraph rips the idea of integrating the game, even as Branch Rickey has signed Jackie Robinson, and has him playing in Montreal.
“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.”
The committee then decides to lean on its (and the Negro League’s) business operations as the motive for avoiding integration.
“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. It is a business in which Negros, as well as Whites, have substantial investments in parks, franchises, and player contracts. Professional baseball, both Negro and White, has grown and prospered over a period of many years on the basis of separate leagues. The employment of a Negro on one AAA League Club in 1946 (NOTE: this is a reference to Jackie Robinson) resulted in a tremendous increase in Negro attendance at all games in which the player appeared. The percentage of Negro attendance at some games at Newark and Baltimore was in excess of 50%.”
The memo then gets to the heart of the matter by outlining how the integrating of Black players would bring about, what the committee sees as an unsavory element: increased attendance by blacks that would lower franchise value.
“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.”
In a sign that there is little faith that players of color could elevate the play of the game in the overall, the committee writes, “Signing a few Negro players for the major leagues would be a gesture – but would contribute little or nothing towards a solution of the real problem."
The memo goes on to outline “facts” as to why integrating the game should not occur, citing the short development of young players in the Negro leagues. Based upon that, “The young Negro player never has a good chance in baseball. This is the reason few good young Negro players are being developed.”
The committee ends by saying in part, “Your Committee does not desire to question the motives of any organization or individual who is sincerely opposed to segregation or who believes that such a policy is detrimental in the best interests of Professional Baseball.”
So, as baseball plays its Civil Rights Game, and touts the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, the fact remains that baseball went kicking and screaming into the movement. It should be the players, not baseball, that is heralded as those that led the Civil Rights efforts in baseball. And that baseball, ever the opportunist, has rode the players coattails. As the 1946 steering committee document shows, there were those at the highest level of the sport that saw African-American players as beneath the quality of their White counterparts, and that they saw the influx of African-American fans as something that would lower franchise values.
Take that in, as baseball takes credit for being at the front of the Civil Rights movement.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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