Is Racism Alive and Well in Major League Baseball?

Mike ZoranCorrespondent IJune 4, 2008

In 1947, when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he ended over 50 years of segregation and broke Major League Baseball's "color barrier".

There were other players in the Negro Leagues who were more talented than Jackie, such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, knew that the man he chose had to be special. The pressure he would face as the first African-American major leaguer in the modern baseball era would be tremendous.

So he chose 28-year old Jack Roosevelt Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs to be that man.

Rickey made Jackie swear that he would not react to the expected criticism and hate. He wanted a player who could win over the hate with his professionalism and talent. Jackie Robinson was his man.

His own teammates threatened not to take the field; opponents did the same. Each city brought the hatred to new heights and limits, but Jackie kept playing baseball, and playing it well.

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He was the league MVP in 1949 and retied with a lifetime batting average of .311.

What Jackie and Branch Rickey did in 1947 opened the door to all of the greats that followed: Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Hank Aaron to name a few. He may not have been the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was best man for this job.

Have the racial issues in Major League Baseball improved since that day? What happened to those that came after Jackie? Were they held to a different standard because of their race?

In 1961, when Roger Maris paved his way into the record books by breaking Babe Ruth's single season home run record of 60, he was harassed daily by the media and fans alike. The man from Hibbing, MN was not one for the spotlight; he just wanted to play baseball.

He was not harassed for being the wrong race or because he was white; he was harassed because HE was breaking the record, and not his teammate Mickey Mantle. Many did not believe Roger to be a true Yankee; and who else deserved beat that record other than a true Yankee?

But what if it would have been Willie Mays breaking that record in 1961?

I can only imagine the racial hatred that Willie would have faced if it had been him and not Maris. It was very possible for him to have done it too. He had seasons of 51, 52, 49 home runs. What kind of asterisk would have been by his name?

The decade of the 1960s marked the biggest civil-rights movement in our nation's history. This carried on into the early 1970s. The Vietnam War was in full stride, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated, and war protests and civil-rights marches ruled the land.

Baseball may have been desegregated in 1947, but the rest of the country was just getting started.

Then Hank Aaron made his assault on the career home run record of 714, set by Babe Ruth.

Hank Aaron never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season, but in 1974, he was out in front as he made his assault. Hank and his family received death threats and hate mail from those that did not want to see a black man beat the Babe's record. Members of the media who supported Aaron were threatened, too.

On April 8, 1974 he hit home run number 715, breaking the record.

Hank went on to hit 755 home runs in his career. He also broke the Babe's career RBI record with smaller fanfare.

In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa set the baseball world on fire as both attacked the single season home-run record set by Maris. McGwire (white) and Sosa (black Hispanic) were sudden baseball super heroes. There was no talk in the media about racial hatred against Sosa, though I am sure he may have had a few letters.

Sammy Sosa went on to hit 66 home runs that season, while McGwire hit 70. There was a national media frenzy, but it was nothing compared to the hate that Aaron endured.

Sammy and Mark were deserving in the eyes of the public. They were not beating the record of a white man or a Yankee, they were beating the record of a baseball player. Sammy not only beat Maris that season, he also beat him with 63 (1999) and 64 (2001) home runs.

In 2001, Barry Bonds broke the single season record set by Mark McGwire. When Barry hit home run No. 73, he was not nearly threatened to the extent that Aaron was.

Then in 2007, Barry Bonds broke the career home run record set by Hank Aaron.

He was not chastised for being a black man setting this record. There are those who believe he did not deserve it, but that is because of his involvement with the steroids issue in baseball, not race.

His teammates did not threaten to sit out, as they did with Jackie Robinson in 1947. The players on opposing teams did not threaten to not play him because of his race. He did not receive negative media coverage because of his race.

Since Jackie Robinson played in 1947, a lot of things have changed in Major League Baseball. Frank Robinson became the first black manager when he led the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Though I cannot find an exact number, I am sure at least half of all professional players in baseball are of a race that is not white.

Baseball did not create racism in the country, but baseball was ahead of the country when it came to removing racism from its ranks.

Those today that try to blame their troubles on a racial problem in baseball only tarnish the accomplishments of those that came before them. All professional athletes today need to take a look at the example of Jackie Robinson. He did not blame racial hatred for anything; instead, he made people love him by playing the game of baseball the best way he new how.

Barry Bonds' name is not all over the media because he is black. For him or anyone else to state that they are treated badly or differently because of their race is wrong. Barry Bonds decided a long time ago who he was as a player and a person.

I respect that, as it is his choice. For him to imply that race is the reason for his lack of popularity is only a direct attack on the very people who enabled him to be a professional athlete in the first place.

Today, in Major League Baseball, players are idolized for how they play, not because of race. They are booed for what they do, not for the color of their skin. In Boston, David Ortiz is a hero; and in New York, Derek Jeter is as well.

My personal baseball hero is Eddie Murray from the Orioles of old. I never saw Eddie as a black man, only a professional.

Major League Baseball did in 1947 what the country didn't do until the 1970s. I know there is racism in this country today, but the country needs to follow the example of baseball.


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