Day 16: 30 days of baseball books in April, 2004 — If baseball was so biracial after the Civil War, why did we need Jackie Robinson?

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  • The book: “When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Dreams of a National Pastime”
  • The author: Ryan A. Swanson
  • Vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 304 pages, $29.95
  • Find it: The University of Nebraska Press site, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com and at Amazon.com.

  • The pitch: If this latest Jackie Robinson Day has taught the young-ins another history lesson about race relations and the game of baseball, here’s something that turns the clock back even further.
    “Whereas much has been written on Jackie Robinson and the process of baseball’s racial desegregation, not nearly enough attention has been paid to an obvious but oft-overlooked question: how did baseball develop to the point where it needed Jackie Robinson in the first place?” Swanson writes in the introduction.
    Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Washington D.C. are Swanson’s focus on how baseball may have thrived in dense black populated cities after the Civil War, but this “fanatical desire by white baseball leaders to foster a ‘national game’ was the preeminent force behind baseball’s segregation,” the University of New Mexico professor continues about how the Reconciliation period of America compromised racial progress, and baseball was merely a reflection of that.”
    Strange, eh?
    Swanson focuses more on how the prominent players and teams of that era — Octavius Catto in Philadelphia, Charles Douglas (son of Frederick Douglas) in Washington D.C., and Alexander Babcock in Richmond — may have had dreams of combining forces with blacks and white playing together as teammates and competitors, but these “mechanics” of segregation at the expense of social justice and unifying the nation really didn’t get sorted out completely for nearly 80 years.
    Or, when Robinson entered.
    The timing is again poignant as stories continue to pop up about how there continues to be declines in African-American MLB players. Previous discussion about such research projects have also been refuted because of “misleading comparisons.”
    But then, just look at today’s MLB rosters — three teams have no black players at all.
    With Swanson’s approach, maybe there is history to be learned if this kind if trend is to be reversed.

  • More to know:
    == An excerpt from the University of Nebraska Press website
    == Current perspective: How the MLB’s “On-Field Diversity Task Forceplans to continue cultivating players from the inner-city.
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