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The best idea I've heard all day

Apr 16, 2010, 2:13 PM EDT

Pumpsie Green.jpgCommenter CG Hudson had a great idea in the No. 42 thread this morning about how to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day next year:

This wearing of the 42 is all well and good but how about MLB getting
creative next year (I know; no chance) and having each team wear the
number of its first African American player (i.e., Indians wear Doby’s
number, Reds wear Chuck Harmon’s, etc., etc.). We all might learn a bit
more in the process.

While I don’t like that we’ve changed Washington and Lincoln’s birthday to “Presidents’ Day,” it’s not like doing what CG suggests would diminish Robinson’s legacy the way adding Richard Nixon to the party sullies George and Abe’s.  To the contrary, it honors those worthy of honor in ways they’ve never been honored before. I think it’s a great idea. I’d love it if Major League Baseball were to do this. I see only two problems:

  • The late-to-integrate teams like the Red Sox and Tigers may not much care for having their historical foot-dragging shoved in their face like this. My response: tough. History is history and part of that history is exposing who, historically speaking, was slow to come to see the light. Just because Tom Yawkey was a racist doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate Pumpsie Green. And besides, all the people who fought integration are either long dead or at least long out of control of the teams they worked for or owned at the time, so who cares what they think?
  • The second problem is that there are now 14 more teams in the league than there were in 1947, and all of them were integrated from Day One of their existence, so it’s not entirely clear what they should do. I’m sure we can figure something out, however. Maybe they go with Robinson. Maybe they go with Negro Leagues tribute. Maybe they do something else that reflects the civil rights struggle in their particular cities. As far as problems go, it’s solvable.

Anyway, the point is to use Jackie Robinson Day to honor the history of baseball’s integration and teach people a few things. Why not change it up a bit next year and give the Curt Roberts and Bob Trices of the world their due?

And for the record. here’s a list of the first black players on every major
league team in existence at the time the color barrier was broken:

Jackie
Robinson     Dodgers
Larry Doby             Indians
Hank
Thompson      Browns
Monte Irvin             Giants
Hank
Thompson      Giants (same day as Irvin; Thompson integrated two teams!
Sam
Jethroe           Braves
Minnie Minoso        White Sox
Bob Trice
              Athletics
Ernie Banks           Cubs
Curt Roberts
          Pirates
Tom Alston             Cardinals
Nino
Escalera         Reds
Chuck Harmon        Reds (same day as Escalera)
Carlos
Paula           Senators
Elston Howard         Yankees
John
Kennedy         Phillies
Ozzie Virgil, Sr.       Tigers
Pumpsie
Green        Red Sox

Make it happen, Bud!

  1. ditmars1929 - Apr 16, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Just another stupid gimmick.

  2. Chaz - Apr 16, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    George and Abe: which George? Bush? George Washington was not a Republican.
    Unless by “party” you mean the Presidency.

  3. Ron - Apr 16, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    Great idea. The Royals could wear Buck O’Neil’s number, and sure all the new teams have someone that could be identified for representation.

  4. SimonDelMonte - Apr 16, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    I’m not big on doing any stunts with numbers. Yes, it’s for one day, but numbers supposed to help you identify the players. It’s confusing enough at the start of the season as it is. There are many other ways to honor Jackie Robinson.

  5. JayT - Apr 16, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Pretty sure he meant the President’s Day “party”. He was saying that honoring all the presidents (even the less then great ones) doesn’t diminish the great ones.

  6. scatterbrian - Apr 16, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Whatever the party is, can we keep ditmars away from it?
    (Benjamin godchild)

  7. Nate - Apr 16, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    I think a negro leagues rememberance on 4/15 would go against what Robinson actually did. I like this idea, though. My Brewers would probably pick Hank Aaron because he owns this town and the many Arby’s within it.
    As long as we’re on gimmicky MLB days, there should be a special day devoted to math. Honestly, the day I reverse engineered ERA was one of the happiest days of my life.

  8. wpcorbett - Apr 16, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    You left out Jehosie Heard, Orioles 1954. Kansas City could wear Satchel Paige’s number with the Indians, since Satch pitched for the KC Monarchs.
    I agree it’s a gimmick, but it’s worthwhile to draw some attention to forgotten pioneers.

  9. Pete Toms - Apr 16, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    I have a problem with JR Day.
    Jackie Robinson, great man, I get that.
    But the deification of Branch Rickey and MLB for “doing the right thing” is bunk. MLB integrated because the Negro Leagues were prospering in some markets, cutting into MLB’s share plus MLB needed the black players. It was about the money, stupid.
    Some smart people argue that the integration of MLB and subsequent death of the Negro Leagues was the beginning of African Americans mass disassociation with MLB.
    http://www.bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3354:lwib-civil-rights-game-highlights-the-demise-of-the-negro-leagues&catid=67:pete-toms&Itemid=155

  10. Tim - Apr 16, 2010 at 6:58 PM

    FYI, there’s never been a Lincoln’s birthday holiday, nor is there technically a Presidents’ Day. The federal holiday is still Washington’s birthday. A push was made a while ago to make it Presidents’ Day, but that is purely informal, and people just want to honor the institution.
    Just sayin’.

  11. RobRob - Apr 16, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    I gotta say, I’m not with you on this idea, Herr Shyster. I get that it would be nice for teams to honor the Larry Dobys and Pumpsie Greens, and I get that we shouldn’t forget the years upon years it took to integrate both leagues. But if you’re going to do Jackie Robinson Day, it shouldn’t be a day to limit the respect for Robinson to the Dodgers only. It looks bad, as if the Dodgers are the only team worthy of remembering Robinson.

    Plus, it would be a yearly reminder to all the fans in places like Detroit and Boston that their franchises were *way* behind on integration. That would be a real downer for those fans, most of whom weren’t around and weren’t responsible for that inexcusable delay.

    On top of that, the numbers for those players generally aren’t well-associated with those players. If everyone on the Red Sox came out of the dugout wearing the number 12, would anyone get it?

    Personally, I think MLB made a mistake in retiring Robinson’s number for every team. I’d rather players get the opportunity to show respect by wearing the number on their back. Maybe MLB can figure out a way to allow players to wear it again without causing too much criticism.

    AND ANOTHER THING… having everyone wear 42 for a day is fun and cool and all, but it’s becoming trite. What was once done out of respect for the man and the trials he endured is now essentially an obligation for everyone on 4/15 every year.

  12. Tired - Apr 16, 2010 at 7:20 PM

    I second the motion.

  13. Tired - Apr 16, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    Not to be picky, but what you write is only correct about Federal holidays. At least 12 states use President’s day as the official title for the day Federally recognized as Washington’s Birthday. 7 other states do officially recognize Lincoln’s Birthday as well.

  14. James - Apr 16, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    I’d love to see that same chart up top with the year of integration included.

  15. Matt - Apr 17, 2010 at 2:07 AM

    I agree. Basically I am just to lazy to look it up myself…

  16. Sim - Apr 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    My problem with JR Day is that it leaves the impression that the color barrier was a unique sin of baseball. The opposite is true: baseball was the first major American institution to integrate. And it wasn’t “all about the money” either. Negro League teams didn’t even put a slight dent in Major League revenue.
    When the Dodgers brought up Jackie Robinson, most American public schools were segregated. So were the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The newly formed NBA was a white league, and blacks couldn’t play in the NFL. Black lawyers couldn’t even join their local bar association. So baseball deserves credit for breakng society’s taboo — but instead JR Day is presently inaccurately as a reminder of a terrible past for which baseball has some special responsibility.

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