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Integration Era  1942-1960

Integration Era 1942-1960

It is significant to note that, during the first half of the 1940's, over one hundred major league players were involved in World War II. As a result, the level of play was somewhat diluted. After the war, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball since 1884. After Robinson's debut, each team in both leagues signed their first black player. Although, on average, most teams did not have a black player receiving regular playing time until 1954 and three teams waited until 10 years after Robinson to sign their first black. Integration by Major League Baseball subsequently led to the demise of the Negro Leagues. Offense was slightly down from the Lively Ball Era; although, homeruns were still on the rise. Starting pitchers completed their games 37% of the time.

The post-War years in baseball also witnessed the racial integration of the sport. Participation by African Americans in organized baseball had been precluded since the 1890s by formal and informal agreements, with only a few players surreptitiously being included in lineups on a sporadic basis.

American society as a whole moved toward integration in the post-War years, partially as a result of the distinguished service by African American military units such as the Tuskegee Airmen, 366th Infantry Regiment, and others. During the baseball winter meetings in 1943, noted African American athlete and actor Paul Robeson campaigned for integration of the sport. After World War II ended, several team managers considered recruiting members of the Negro Leagues for entry into organized baseball. In the early 1920s, New York Giants' manager John McGraw slipped a black player, Charlie Grant, into his lineup (reportedly by passing him off to the front office as an Indian), and McGraw's wife reported finding names of dozens of Negro players that McGraw fantasized about signing, after his death. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bill Bensawanger reportedly signed Josh Gibson to a contract in 1943, and the Washington Senators were also said to be interested in his services. But those efforts (and others) were opposed by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's powerful commissioner and a staunch segregationist. Bill Veeck claimed that Landis blocked his purchase of the Philadelphia Phillies because he planned to integrate the team. While this is disputed, Landis was opposed to integration, and his death in 1944 (and subsequent replacement as Commissioner by Happy Chandler) removed a major obstacle for black players in the major leagues.

In the mid-1940s, Rickey had compiled a list of Negro League ballplayers for a potential major league contract. Realizing that the first African American signee would be a magnet for prejudicial sentiment, however, Rickey was intent on finding a player with a distinguished personality and character that would allow him to tolerate the inevitable abuse. Rickey's sights eventually settled on Jackie Robinson, a shortstop with the Kansas City Monarchs. Although likely not the best player in the Negro Leagues at the time, Robinson was an exceptional talent, was college-educated, and had the marketable distinction of serving as an officer during World War II. More importantly, Robinson possessed the inner strength to handle the inevitable abuse to come. To prepare him for the task, Robinson first played in 1946 for the Dodgers' minor league team, the Montreal Royals, which proved an arduous emotional challenge, but he also enjoyed fervently enthusiastic support from the Montreal fans. On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke the color barrier, which had been tacitly recognized for over 50 years, with his appearance for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

The general manager who would be eventually successful in breaking the color barrier was Branch Rickey of theBrooklyn Dodgers. Rickey himself had experienced the issue of segregation. While playing and coaching for his college team at Ohio Wesleyan University, Rickey had a black teammate named Charles Thomas. On one particular road trip through southern Ohio his fellow player was refused a room in a hotel. Although Rickey was able to get the player into his room for that night, he was taken aback when he reached his room to find Thomas upset and crying about this injustice. Rickey related this incident as an example of why he wanted a full de-segregation of the nation, not only in baseball.

Eleven weeks later, on July 5, 1947, the American League was integrated by the signing of Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians. Over the next few years a handful of black baseball players made appearances in the majors, including Roy Campanella (teammate to Robinson in Brooklyn) and Satchel Paige (teammate to Doby in Cleveland). Paige, who had pitched more than 2400 innings in the Negro Leagues, sometimes two and three games a day, was still effective at 42, and still playing at 59. His ERA in the Major Leagues was 3.29.

However, the initial pace of integration was slow. By 1953, only six of the sixteen major league teams had a black player on the roster. The Boston Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate their roster with the addition of Pumpsie Green and Ozzie Virgil on July 21, 1959. While limited in numbers, the on-field performance of early black major league players was outstanding. In the fourteen years from 1947–1960, black players won one or more of the Rookie of the Year awards nine times.

While never prohibited in the same fashion as African Americans, Latin American players also benefitted greatly from the integration era. In 1951, two Chicago White Sox, Venezuelan-born Chico Carrasquel and Cuban-born (and black) Minnie Miñoso, became the first Hispanic All-Stars.

According to some baseball historians, Robinson and the other African American players helped reestablish the importance of baserunning and similar elements of play that were previously de-emphasized by the predominance of power hitting.

From 1947 to the 1970s, African American participation in baseball rose steadily. By 1974, 27% of baseball players were African American. As a result of this on-field experience, minorities began to experience long-delayed gains in managerial positions within baseball. In 1975, Frank Robinson (who had been the 1956Rookie of the Year with the Cincinnati Reds) was named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, making him the first African American manager in the major leagues.

Although these front-office gains continued, Major League Baseball saw a lengthy slow decline in the percentage of black players after the mid-1970s. By 2007, black players made up less than 9% of the major leagues. While this trend is largely attributed to an increased emphasis on the recruitment of players from Latin America (with the number of Hispanic players in the major leagues rising to 29% by 2007), other factors have been cited as well. Hall of Fame player Dave Winfield, for instance, has cited the fact that urban America places less emphasis and provides less resources for youth baseball than in the past. Despite this continued prevalence of Hispanic players, the percentage of black players rose again in 2008 to 10.2%.

Arturo Moreno became the first Hispanic owner of a MLB franchise when he purchased the Anaheim Angels in 2004.

In 2005, a Racial and Gender Report Card on Major League Baseball was issued, which generally found positive results on the inclusion of African Americans and Latinos in baseball, and gave Major League Baseball a grade of "A" or better for opportunities for players, managers and coaches as well as for MLB's central office. At that time, 37% of major league players were people of color: Latino (26 percent), African-American (9 percent) or Asian (2 percent). Also by 2004, 29% of the professional staff in MLB's central office were people of color, 11% of team vice presidents were people of color, and seven of the league's managers were of color (four African-Americans and three Latinos)

 

By Tom Hannon

 

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Tagged:
Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers, Color Barrier, Ebbets Field, Kansas City Monarchs, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Negro League

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