The straw that stirs the drink


I did not watch the Rickwood Field game saluting the Negro Leagues between the Cardinals and the Giants last night as I was umpiring. But I have read the recaps and seen a couple of clips form the Fox (ugh) broadcast; the clip from the 5th inning when they went to a retro 1950s-style TV picture complete with no color, two or three camera angles only, and primitive on-screen graphics was pretty neat.

But the best writeup of the game comes from Craig Calcaterra, with special kudos for the section he wrote on Reggie Jackson's appearance in the broadcast booth. Rather than pick some pullquotes, I'll just share the whole section here.

Reggie Jackson brings the truth


Reggie Jackson joined the Fox MLB panel before the Cards-Giants game at Rickwood Field last night. During his appearance Jackson, who played 114 games for the Oakland Athletics’ Southern League affiliate in Birmingham in 1967, was asked by Alex Rodriguez about his feelings upon returning to Rickwood. Jackson did not lean into any feel-good sentiments that Major League Baseball or Fox likely wanted to hear from him. And he did not hold back.

"Coming back here is not easy," Jackson said. "The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled. Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn't wish it on anybody." Jackson then described about how he would be called the n-word and would be denied service at restaurants and hotels.

Jackson then said, that if it wasn’t for his teammates and coaches with the Birmingham A’s, things would’ve gotten even worse:

"Fortunately, I had a manager, in Johnny McNamara, that . . . if I couldn't eat in the place, nobody would eat. We would get food to travel. If I couldn't stay in a hotel, they'd drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi . . . I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they would burn our apartment complex down unless I got out."

Jackson said that without McNamara and his teammates, "I would've [gotten] killed here, because I would've beat someone's ass." Watch:

I embedded that video because it’s the only full-length, embeddable one I could find that focused on this part of his appearance, but it bleeps out the N-words Reggie used. They aired live on Fox, however and, given how prone baseball and baseball fans are to sanitize history and nostalgia, it was important that they did.

Listening to Jackson speak, I was struck by two thoughts.

First: though baseball didn’t put too fine a point on it, the game at Rickwood Field replaced the Field of Dreams Game in Iowa on the schedule as a special, small ballpark event. Though the reasons for skipping Iowa this year had more to do with business and logistics than anything else, kudos to Major League Baseball for moving away from the synthetic, sanitized version of history — if one can even call what was essentially a 1980s movie tribute version of baseball “history” — and embracing real history that actually matters.

Second: Jackson was not describing life in the Negro Leagues or during the heart of the Jim Crow era. What he described took place twenty years after baseball was integrated, over a decade after de jure segregation was outlawed, three years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, and two years after the Voting Rights Act was passed. It was a time when many who are reading these words were alive, some of whom were adults. Jackson himself was an active major leaguer into the late 1980s yet he faced the sort of bigotry and discrimination that many people in this country tend to casually assume was the stuff of ancient history if, indeed, they even acknowledge it ever happened.

And make no mistake, we’re at a point in American history where there are many people — including people in positions of power or who are seeking positions of power — who are actively trying to bring back the conditions Jackson described and who want to turn back the clock to before the Civil Rights Era began. Our Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and multiple state legislatures have passed laws forbidding the teaching or even the discussion of racism, institutional or otherwise, in public schools and universities. Republican politicians and activists have their eyes set on eliminating anti-discrimination laws and have, as both a matter of policy and rhetoric, embraced the notion of returning Blacks and other minorities to the status of second class citizenship. And they have done so shamelessly.

Indeed, just two weeks ago, Byron Donalds, a sitting Republican Congressman who is actively seeking to become Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, argued that things were better for Black people during the Jim Crow era:

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively,” Donalds said. “And then HEW, Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are.”

Donalds didn’t get caught on a hot mic saying this. He said it before a crowd at a Trump campaign event in Philadelphia. And not a single Republican of consequence, let alone the man at the top of the Republican ticket, offered a word of criticism or pushback.

We’re living in a perilous time. A time when a large number of Americans want to erase the racial and social progress we have realized over the past 50-60 years. Those efforts cannot be stopped by our ignoring them. They must be actively fought, and the first step in doing so is by reminding people of what actually happened in those times and calling bullshit on those who wish to distort history.

In light of that, kudos to Reggie Jackson for not holding back on his account of his own personal history. Kudos to him for not contributing to the sanitization of history at large. It’s only through plain and straightforward words like his that we can keep others from dragging us back to the dark ages which so many fought and so many died to help us escape.

Craig's newsletter, "Cup of Coffee," is free once a week and subscription only for the other four days he publishes.

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  • Posted by Erik on June 22, 2024 (22 days ago)

    Nice headline on this one. And I particularly like this line:

    They aired live on Fox, however and, given how prone baseball and baseball fans are to sanitize history and nostalgia, it was important that they did.

    You know what I was reminded of? Curt Flood talking about his experience in the Southern Leagues in the 1950s: "They called me everything but a child of God." On some level, what's astonishing to me is the number of people who are astonished that this happened in the 1960s.

  • Posted by Bill on June 21, 2024 (23 days ago)

    Great, stirring, and needed post, Tim. Thank you.

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