Kasich Enters the Fray; Why Trump Didn't Run as a Democrat; Larry Doby

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Good morning, it’s Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Sixty-eight years ago today, a black baseball player appeared in an official major league game played at Yankee Stadium for the first time.

No, it was not Jackie Robinson -- he was in the National League -- but this man was also a World War II veteran, and a terrific ballplayer. His name was Hank Thompson.

If you’ve not heard of this pioneering American athlete, you aren’t alone. The story of how baseball’s color line was broken usually told as the courageous action of two men: Branch Rickey and Jack Robinson. Both were certainly brave, and visionary, but they were not alone.

Integrating baseball was a crusade pursued by many people, on and off the diamond. In post-war America this cause became a touchstone of the burgeoning civil rights movement.

In a moment, I’ll have a further word on some of the other people who helped make integration seem as natural to most Americans as singing “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” First, I’d refer you to RCP’s front page, which aggregates columns, video clips, and analysis spanning the ideological spectrum, and to the original pieces from RCP’s reporters and contributors:

* * *

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Why Donald Trump Didn’t Run as a Democrat. He changes political parties like most of us change shoes. He veered right again right after the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, as I write.

Trump Broadcasts Graham’s Phone Number. Trump aimed his mouth at Sen. Lindsey Graham Tuesday, calling him “an idiot” before sharing Graham’s personal cell phone number on television. Andrew Desiderios has the story.

O’Malley Campaign Defends Linking Climate Change, ISIS. The candidate answered GOP critics who pooh-poohed his statement that a drought-caused crisis gave the terror group a foothold, Andrew reports.

Public Backs Televised Supreme Court Hearings. A new poll shows 76 percent support broadcasting oral arguments, Courtney Such reports.

Congress Inspired by Ghost of Dwight Eisenhower. The 34th U.S. president would hail Tuesday's bipartisan agreement to fund the long-overdue repair of U.S. infrastructure, as Nancy Jacobson of No Labels explains in a guest op-ed.

Poll: 48 Percent Disapprove of Iran Deal. James Arkin sizes up findings of the latest Pew poll, which shows many Americans are skeptical of the White House’s plan to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This Summer's Common Core Political Climate: Now that the first spring of Common Core-aligned testing is over, and with a No Child Left Behind rewrite pending in Congress, RealClearEducation's Emmeline Zhao takes a look at how each state's adoption of the standards is faring politically. Explore the interactive piece here.

 

* * *

Whether the Lords of Baseball realized it or not, organized baseball’s color line was a key foundation in a stone edifice known as Jim Crow. But even the strongest stone castles can be breached -- and eventually razed -- and this is what happened in the 1940s.

When Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947s, no big city in America had a black mayor. Only two African Americans served in Congress. Baseball was a symbol, not a bastion.

After World War II, lynching tapered off in this country, but it wasn’t eliminated. Six blacks were lynched in 1946, and some of these victims were military veterans. President Truman was appalled, as was much of the country. As for baseball, excluding combat veterans from playing the National Pastime on account of their race seemed particularly petty, ugly, and inexcusable.

In 1945, a New York City councilman named Ben Davis, a former college football star, distributed pamphlets with pictures of two African Americans. One was a dead U.S. soldier, the other a baseball player in uniform.

“Good enough to die for his country,” the leaflet said, “but not good enough for organized baseball.”

The same year, liberal Boston councilman Isadore Muchnick used a different kind of leverage. Massachusetts still had “blue laws” on the books preventing certain commerce from taking place on Sundays. Baseball was one of them, but local option allowed Boston to waive the law, which it did. Muchnick floated the idea of denying the Red Sox that waiver unless they opened their roster to blacks.

The team went through the motions of giving three black players tryouts, and though it had no intention of signing them, a fuse had been lit. Several of them, actually. Several of Beantown’s sportswriters got behind this effort.

The black press had been pounding on this issue for years, as Peter Dreier noted in The Atlantic two years ago:

“Starting in the 1930s, reporters for African-American papers (especially Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, Fay Young of the Chicago Defender, Joe Bostic of the People's Voice in New York, and Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American), and Lester Rodney, sports editor of the Communist paper, the Daily Worker, took the lead in pushing baseball's establishment to hire black players.”

“They published open letters to owners, polled white managers and players (some of whom were threatened by the prospect of losing their jobs to blacks, but most of whom said that they had no objections to playing with African Americans), brought black players to unscheduled tryouts at spring training centers, and kept the issue before the public. Several white journalists for mainstream papers joined the chorus for baseball integration.”

This was the environment Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were operating in. As for the talent pool of black ballplayers, that had never been in question. The so-called Negro League had many ballplayers of Robinson’s caliber. One of them was Hank Thompson. At 17, he played right field for the Kansas City Monarchs before being drafted into the Army. Thompson was a machine gunner with the 1695th Combat Engineers, which saw action the Battle of the Bulge.

Larry Doby, another military veteran, was the first black player in the American League. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians and began playing in July of 1947, three months after Jackie Robinson.

 “He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the majors behind Jackie Robinson,” Indians teammate Bob Feller would say later. “He was just as good of a ballplayer, an exciting player, and a very good teammate.”

It’s a nice thing to say, but it underestimates Doby’s challenge. Buzz Aldrin wasn’t called the names that Larry Doby was, or forced to stay at different hotels than the other astronauts , or taunted or threatened. It’s not too much to say that Doby endured almost all of Jackie Robinson’s challenges, with little of the glory or support system.

Like Robinson -- and Bob Feller -- Larry Doby is in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Three days from now, the Cleveland Indians will unveil a statue of Doby at their ballpark. It is a well-deserved honor.

 

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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