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Jackie Robinson

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. By the 1950s, all teams had integrated. There were still problems, but good things had begun. Just as all this was happening, my buddies and I were born.

 

We grew up in an area that was a huge melting pot – iron mining was hard work, attracting a hard-working people from all over Europe. There were Slovenians, Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, Poles, Germans, Italians, Czechs, Greeks, and so many more. These people worked side by side in the mines, shopped in the same stores, drank at the same bars.

But we had no African-Americans. I don’t know why and won’t guess.

So where do young kids like me get their introduction to racial attitudes? I suggest it came, at least in part, from baseball.

I can explain that in these words: Earl Battey, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Mudcat Grant, and so many others who played baseball.

 

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We saw them every day on our baseball cards and the information those cards contained. We knew where they were from and how they got to be ballplayers. We listened to their efforts on the baseball game broadcasts on radio. We never heard the announcer say, “Here’s Black Catcher Earl Battey coming to the plate.” It was, “Here’s Earl Battey coming to the plate.” Nor was it “Look at that home run by Caucasian Mickey Mantle!” Everyone was part of the team, part of the effort. Why would we think any differently?

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TV aired a few games where we watched all the styles of the ball players. After a while, we could imitate the batting stance of anybody we saw, and it did not matter a single bit of sweat who they were. We could do the crouch of a Luis Aparicio. We could do the straight up stance of Harmon Killebrew They were baseball players, our heroes, our role models. And pitching? In the 1964 world series between the Yankees and the Cardinals, we tried to emulate the pitching delivery of white guy Whitey Ford or the absolutely dominant pitching style of African-American Bob Gibson. Race didn’t enter into it as a reason to emulate or not emulate. We imitated success, no matter where it came from. That is a good thing.

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Baseball STILL has some growing to do. So do all of us. Now, of course it wasn’t all that simple, but I believe it was a good start.

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