Monday, July 12, 2004

Race, Baseball, Boston, Bonds

My sympathy for Boston's "curse of the Bambino" dropped a bit after reading this piece on Alternet about Barry Bonds's recent comment that he would never play for the Red Sox because of the city's racism. It turns out that Boston was the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate, and when it did, it did so only half-heartedly:

The Boston Red Sox were the last team in major league baseball to integrate. They waited so long to sign African-Americans, that the hockey team, the Bruins, actually beat them to it. The Sox removed their color line in 1959 twelve years after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They begrudgingly brought marginal infielder Pumpsie Green up from the minors. But it didn't have to be Pumpsie.

In April 1945 the Red Sox held a private tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson himself. With only management in the stands, someone yelled "Get those niggers off the field," and the door was shut. In 1949, the Red Sox laughed off the chance to sign Bonds's godfather, the legendary Willie Mays, who would go on to hit more career home runs than all but one man before him and awe crowds with his speed and defense. As Juan Williams reports, "One of the team's scouts decided that it wasn't worth waiting through a stretch of rainy weather to scout the black player." That decision killed the possibility that Mays and Ted Williams might have played in the same outfield.

In the 1950s, as teams immeasurably strengthened themselves by signing players like Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Elston Howard, and others, the Red Sox stood pat with an all white hand. (The next time you hear a Boston fan complain about "The Curse of the Bambino", correct them that their "Curse of the Racism" has had a much more adverse effect.)

All I can say is: Go Yankees.


J.F. said...

That's an interesting story, and no doubt some lingering racism plagues Boston....BUT, don't you think it's a bit disingenuous to talk about how racist the team/city is by discussing its actions in the 1940s and 50s (even 60s)?! It's a bit of a bait-and-switch tactic.

I know things are still far from perfect but much has changed in the past 30-40 years. To ignore how things have changed is just as problematic as ignoring the problems that do still exist.

By the way, whether one likes his comments or not, Barry Bonds is THE greatest hitter to ever play the game. And I respect his right to be outspoken.

Amardeep said...

Fair enough.

Maybe this should be filed under the "I did not know this ugly facet of Boston sports history" category rather than the "Barry Bonds is right on all counts" category.

There was some mention that Barry Bonds's father played for the Red Sox, and that this is fueling his anti-Soxism. Do you know if there were any specific incidents where his father was badly treated? Hm.

Rob Breymaier said...

Regardless, this is no reason to support the Yankees. EW!

chutry said...

I've heard some bad things about the Yawkey family, who once owned the Sox, but can't confirm them just yet. I had heard the story that the Sox were the last team to integrate, but it's probably worth noting that no major league baseball teams existed in the south until the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, and the Astros started in Houston (around 1964, I believe).

I know that Bobby Bonds had teh reputation of not shying away from discussing race, and I can try to do some digging to find out why he might have had a bad experience with the Sox.

I agree with the other reader, though: skip the Yankees and root for *anyone else.*