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National Pasttime

The great baseball player Cap Anson has the ignominious honor of having been the earliest and loudest voice to keep the game of baseball as white as the ball and it stayed that way for the first 60 years of the game.

Yes, there was historically plenty of racism in the game that shaped my young life and those of tens of millions of other bright-eyed boys, the game that spawned legends and heroes from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle, the game that was this much south of heaven.

If you were white and Christian, there was always a place for you in the stands and in the hearts and minds of players and fans. Here’s a brief review of the game’s worst racists and all hailed from the south or the midwest, the epicenters for the KKK in the early- to mid-20th Century.

For those who complain that the reputations of great baseball players should not be besmirched and that they should be recalled for their exploits on the field, it’s like saying that Hitler should be remembered because he was a pretty good artist.

A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Anson was born in Marshalltown, Iowa. Anson is regarded as one of the greatest players of his era and one of the game’s first superstars. You won’t see it on his plaque in Cooperstown but Anson also was baseball’s worst racists, creating the so-called “color line” to keep African Americans from playing in the Major Leagues.

Anson, who refused to take the field against black players, leads the parade of shame. First for his baseball exploits, Anson played 27 seasons in Chicago for the White Stockings from 1876–1889 and the Colts from 1890–1897. The Hall of Fame website notes that “For years [Anson] stood at first base for Chicago like a might oak. Sturdy, blunt, and honest . . . The captain who was always kicking at decisions, the symbol of all that was strong and good in baseball.” Not so good for African Americans.

Ben Chapman of Hoover, Ala., was a pretty good outfielder, pitcher, and Major League baseball manager in the 1920s and 1930s but there was that problem he had with taunting Jewish fans at Yankee Stadium with Nazi salutes and with tossing the N-word and other nasty racist epithets at Jackie Robinson.

Born in Nashville, Tenn., Chapman is a close second in the racism, anti-Semitism hit parade. As a player for the Yankees, he had a quirky habit of using the Nazi salute to taunt Jewish fans, and he famously and intentionally spiked second baseman Buddy Myer, who also was Jewish.

Chapman went a tad too far in 1947 when he was the manager of the Phillies and was unremitting when he screamed racists taunts at Jackie Robinson. He was fired the next season and was permanently out of baseball.

Dixie Walker of Villa Rica, Ga., was a five-time All Star, a National League batting champ and RBI leader for the Brooklyn Dodgers where he played in the 1930s and was lovingly known in Brooklyn as “the people’s cherce,” that would be “choice” without the Brooklyn accent.

The people’s cherce was most notorious for his attempts to keep Jackie Robinson from joining the Dodgers in 1947. He said he wouldn’t play for Brooklyn if Robinson was on the team and he asked to be traded rather than play with Robinson. Dodger owner Branch Rickey thought of trading Walker but kept him because he was a star player.

Enos Slaughter of Durham, N.C., played in the 1950s, and was affectionately called “Country” by the fans and his teammates and is a member of the Hall of Fame.

“Country” had a real problem with Robinson and allegedly conspired with a teammate to get the Cardinals to refuse to play with Robinson in the field. Slaughter later injured Robinson during a game by spiking his leg, leaving a seven-inch gash. He claimed the allegations of racism were falsely made because he was a “southern boy.” His jersey number 9 was retired by the Cardinals on Sept. 6, 1996.

Rogers “The Rajah” Hornsby, from Winters, Texas, who played in the 1920s, is one of the most revered players in the game, with a lifetime .358 batting average, three seasons batting over .400 and two triple crowns. Hornsby, who also was a manager, also denied repeated allegations through the years that he was a member of the KKK and that he cut Catholic players from his teams.

The Most Valuable Player award is named after Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first trailblazing commissioner. But Landis of Millville, Ohio, was no trailblazer in racial progress and should have gotten the award as baseball’s most zealous opponent of integration. Landis banned white major league teams from playing barnstorming games against black teams.

This is nowhere near an exhausting report on racism in baseball but because of limitations in reader attention. I’ve not noted Tom Yawkey, the longtime Red Sox manager who kept the Sox as the last team to admit a black player in 1959 and Yawkey’s manager, Michael “Pinky” Higgins who would have no part in managing a black player.

Tris Speaker from Whitney, Texas, was known as the “Grey Eagle” and is considered one of the greatest offensive and defensive centerfielders in the history of the game. He was a manager and player in the 1920s and was thought to be a member of the Klan but denied it.

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer