Monday, April 06, 2009

All Jackie All the Time: How baseball's self-serving sentimentality over Jackie Robinson will help obscure the legacy of other early black players

Jeremy Beer on the "most annoying day on the Major League Baseball schedule":

There’s some truth to all of this. And Jackie Robinson really was personally heroic, besides being a fantastic second baseman. But not only will Jackie’s influence be comically overstated, it is hard to take historical analysis seriously from players who likely couldn’t date the assassination of Malcolm X within a decade, and who surely don’t know a single thing about Jackie’s pre-National League days or the Negro Leagues from which he came. Nor is it possible to take seriously the pious moral intonations of a league whose motives are so transparently self-serving. Yes sir, ring up the points for racial enlightenment and diversity celebration on April 15! (And push those pesky steroid stories off the front pages for a few days.)

Aside from all the cant, though, one of the really unfortunate consequences of MLB’s single-minded focus on Robinson is that it pushes the other great black players of the pre-integration era — and at least a handful of them were not only better players than Robinson, but quite as good men — far into the recesses of the public consciousness. The effect is to prevent us from enjoying the personalities and talents of some of the best athletes America has ever produced. Satchel Paige is the only one of these players to be nearly a household name. Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Turkey Stearns, and Cool Papa Bell? Much less so. And perhaps the most obscure of the Negro League greats was arguably the best player of them all: Oscar Charleston-the Hoosier Comet.

Read the rest here.

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