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Arizona: Bud Selig’s Dilemma

By Foster Richards

Major League Baseball’s place in the history of the battle for equality and civil rights is an embarrassment. Black ballplayers were banned from the major leagues for over 75 years until 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Nothing can make that right, but people of conscience are demanding that Major League Baseball (MLB) move the 2011 All-Star Game from its currently scheduled site in Arizona to “Anywhere else!” in protest of the recent passage of the racist anti-immigrant SB1070.

MLB’s racism tarnished the reputations of all the great ballplayers from its early era. Could white hitters like Mel Ott or Stan Musial have hit like the great African American pitcher Satchel Paige? Could a white catcher like Bill Dickey have thrown out a base stealer like the African American speedster Cool Papa Bell? Could African American Josh Gibson hit more home runs than Babe Ruth or Ted Williams? Because of MLB’s racism, we will never know. MLB’s segregation policy prevented them from facing all the best ballplayers of their era.

MLB ignored the demands from the people for equality in the 1930s and 1940s. Communist-led organizations and unions held rallies, gathered petitions and picketed at the MLB ballparks for an end to segregation in baseball. The Daily Worker’s fine sports writer Lester Rodney covered the Negro Leagues as well as MLB. He called for the best ballplayers to be admitted to MLB regardless of race.

MLB has buried this history. The owners want you to think that ‘visionaries like Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey or former MLB Commissioner Ford Frick were the only reason that baseball was integrated. But many MLB owners were hesitant to let the best nonwhite players join their team even after Jackie Robinson in the National League, Larry Doby in the American League and others had broken the color barrier. The first African American ballplayer on Boston Red Sox was Pumpsie Green in 1959. The Red Sox did not have regular nonwhite position players until the mid 1960s.

Fast forward to today’s MLB elite. After years of trying to get everyone to ignore past sins, Commissioner Bud Selig took a new direction. He honored Jackie Robinson by retiring his number 42 from all MLB teams. He embraced the Negro League players, even putting some in the MLB Hall of Fame. Heck that was over 60 years ago. We are more enlightened than that now.

Selig sees new markets for MLB, especially in Japan. Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and other Japanese players are heavily marketed abroad. Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have produced great MLB players for decades. Now MLB is testing ways to cash in on its new found internationalism.

But how enlightened are they? MLB has scheduled its All-Star game in Phoenix, Arizona. Furthermore, the MLB franchise in Arizona and its owner, Ken Kendrick, have been major financial contributors for the Republicans responsible for SB1070. But unfortunately for them, that darn immigrant rights movement is challenging MLB to step up to the plate.

Like the radical civil rights leaders in the1930s and 1940s, people from MLB cities across the country have started to protest and demand that the 2011 All-Star game be moved. They want MLB to renounce the racism of SB1070. Protests in Milwaukee, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. have grabbed many fans’ attention.

Some players who are likely to be chosen to play in the All-Star game, like the Milwaukee Brewer pitcher Yovani Gallardo and San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, have said that they would not attend an All-Star game if it is in Arizona. The outspoken manager of the Chicago White Sox has followed suit and said that he would not attend unless the Arizona laws are changed.

While as many as 30% of MLB ballplayer are from other countries or are of Latin ancestry, this is not about them. This is about racist discrimination and national oppression. This is about one set of laws for some people and another set of laws for other people. It is time for sports fans to stand for full equality for all people.

No matter which team you like, you root for all of the players whether they are black, white, brown, Asian or red. Arizona’s SB1070 is wrong, you know it, I know it and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig knows it. The question is, will MLB back its racist buddies in Arizona or will they take a principled stand?

Foster Richards can be reached at [email protected]

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