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Why I'm for the Players,
2002-08-29 14:51
by Mike Carminati

Why I'm for the Players, Part 1

It's 1986 and Andre Dawson has just finished his third straight disappointing, injury-plagued season. He is now a free agent and has decided not that he will no play for his current team, the Montreal Expos. You see, on the Expos he would be required to play at least half his games on Astroturf which will continue to wreak havoc on his injury-prone knees. There is only one problem: no one but the Expos is offering him a contract even though he is a well-established star.

His agent, Dick Moss, leaves a blank contract for Dawson's services in the Cubs' offices with a note to fill out the amount as the team sees fit. The Cubs, of course, played on a natural surface in Wrigley Field (even the walls are natural there). Moss also has the foresight to mention this to the press. The Cubs offer Dawson a contract at a 60% reduction over 1986. Dawson signs with the Cubs and goes on to hit 49 home runs, drive in 137 runs, and win the league Most Valuable Player award. His Expo teammate, Tim Raines, had won a batting title in 1986 and yet could not get a contract offer as a free agent. He had been precluded from resigning with the Expos until May 1 because of the existing free agent rules. Nevertheless, he ended up leading the league in runs for the second straight year with 123.

Dawson and Raines were two of the many players whose salaries were negatively impacted by a policy that MLB led by commissioner Peter Ueberroth secretly imposed over a three-year period in the Eighties. It came to be known as "collusion". Eventually, the baseball arbitrators ruled that this policy was unfairly oppressive in our free-market economy, that the owners conspired in violation of the labor contract. The contract stipulated that "clubs shall not act I concert with other clubs [with respect to free agents]." The players won a total of $280 million in Collusion I, II, and III (one per year, 1986 to 1988). Though this sum seems quite overwhelming, it did not contain any penalties. Its design was to make the affected salaries whole again. Of course, the players had to pay legal fees so the settlement did less than was intended. Finally, new commissioner, Faye Vincent, imposed no sanctions whatsoever on the owners.

It's 1947 and Jackie Robinson has just broken the "Color Line" to become major league baseball's first player of African-American heritage in over 60 years. Robinson soon becomes one of the most exciting players in baseball history. He is also one of the most admired and is the only man to have his number retired throughout baseball. During his career but especially at the onset, Robinson must endure racial abuse and personal threats on and off the field.

His heroic actions are not diminished one iota by the realization that had the owners not acted in concert to bar players for the previous 60 years, he would never had to withstand such overt racism.

It's 1887 and Moses Fleetwood Walker is the catcher of the Newark, NJ, International League and has had to endure years of abuse on and off the field because of his race. Technically, he was the first African-American major-leaguer in 1884 when his Toledo Blue Stockings moved from the Northwestern League to the major-league American Association. His brother Welday played the outfield for the club for a handful of games that season but decided that his baseball career was not worth such a continual onslaught and retired to become a barber. They are to be the last black major-leaguers until Jackie Robinson.

In 1883 Walker's Toledo club had an exhibition with the Chicago National League team. When White Stocking team captain, Cap Anson, refused to play due Toledo due to Walker's presence and the Toledo club refuse to have their player decisions dictated to them. When the decision was made that if Chicago did not play, they would forfeit their claim to the gate, Anson reneged on his refusal to play.

After his one major-league season, Walker turned to the minor leagues. Bud Fowler (2B-P), another African-American ballplayer, had been finding success in the minors as well. 1886 saw five black men playing professional baseball in the minor leagues (Walker, Fowler, George Stovey, Frank Grant, and Jack Frye). Also in 1886, an all-black team named the Cuban Giants defeated the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National League. The Cuban Giants would almost defeat the NL champ Detroit Wolverines the next year, but would loss 6-4 on an error in the ninth. 1886 also witnessed the birth of the first black league, the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists, though it was a regional league and is short-lived.

1887 becomes the apogee of this early African-American renaissance with 13 players on twelve different teams in five different minor leagues. In the International League, the highest minor league, seven African-Americans toil (Walker, Fowler, Stovey, Grant, Robert Higgins, William Renfro, and Randolph Jackson). Sol White in his Rosetta Stone of black baseball history, The History of Colored Base Ball, states that there are in total 20 black professional players throughout the country in 1887. Also, an all-black league consisting of six teams (league of Colored Base Ball Players, a.k.a., the Colored National League) is created in 1887 but only lasts 13 games. This league has been recognized by organized ball's National Agreement.

In 1887 Walker forms an all-black battery with 34-game winner (still the International League record), George Stovey, on the Newark club. The influx of blacks has not gone on unnoticed. The Sporting News says on June 11, "A new trouble has just arisen in the affairs of certain baseball associations [which] has done more damage to the International League than to any other we know of. We refer to the importation of colored players into the ranks of that body."

On July 14 the Newark club is scheduled to play an exhibition game with the Chicago White Stockings and Cap Anson. Walker, perhaps because of the 1883 incident, is not scheduled to play. George Stovey, however, is scheduled to start even though Walker is his regular catcher. This is when Cap Anson makes his famous utterance, "Get that nigger off the field!" Anson refuses to play unless Stovey is taken out of Newark's lineup. Newark refuses to allow Anson to dictate the use of their personnel. The game is declared a forfeit to Chicago.

On the same day the directors of the IL act to bar teams from signing African-Americans in the future. The confluence of these two events cannot be merely a coincidence. Sol White states that, "All the leagues, during the Winter of 1887 and 1888, drew the color line, or had a clause inserted in their constitutions limiting the number of colored players to be employed by each club."

White also claims that New York Giant captain John Montgomery Ward will try to acquire Stovey from Newark later in 1887 but is barred from doing so when Anson speaks out against integration.

Just why Adrian C. Anson, manager and captain of the Chicago National League Club, was so strongly opposed to colored players on white teams cannot be explained. His repugnant feeling, shown at every opportunity, toward colored ball players, was a source of comment through every league in the country, and his opposition, with his great popularity and power in base ball circles, hastened the exclusion of the black man from the white leagues.

White probably overstates Anson's influence. There are reports that the Newark manager refused to sell Stovey and Walker to the Giants, something that is within the rights of the minor-league clubs of the day. Anson probably becomes a lightning rod for these issues to serve the purpose of more powerful men. Whatever the reason, the Giants never sign Stovey, and major league baseball instead institutes the ironically designated "Gentleman's Agreement" not to sign Asfrican-American players. This apartheid lasts until Jackie Robinson.

Due to the new policies, the number of black players dwindles in 1888 to six in four leagues.

1889 introduces the concept of an all-black team in a white organization, a new answer to the segregation pressures. The great Cuban Giants represent Trenton (NJ) and the New York Gorhams represent Philadelphia (?) in the Middle-States League. There are seven other African-Americans in organized ball. By now, only Fleet Walker is left in the renamed International Association.

This trend of all-black clubs continues until 1898 when Celeron (NY) fields the last such team in white minor-league history, playing in the Iron and Oil (I&0) League. Only two other African-Americans play minor-league ball that year. They will the last two black players to play in white organized ball on American soil until Jackie Robinson debuts for the Dodgers nearly fifty years later.

In 1899, Bill Galloway becomes the last African-American to play in white organized ball appropriately in Canada (for Woodstock, Ont., of the Canadian League) until Jackie Robinson starts to play for the Montrel Royals of the International League in 1946.

Fleet Walker eventually will become the editor of a black paper and in the end an advocate of black migration back to Africa publishing a book called Ourt Home Colony in 1908. Had the owners acted to reverse the on-field decision to forfeit the 1887 game and to abolish the decision of the IL directors to bar blacks in the future, Walker's fate, as well as a good deal other black players', would have been different. The IL was in baseball's National Agreement and the major-league owners help sway in this organization. Their decisive action would have stemmed proliferation of segregationist leagues. The only negative result would have been that Jackie Robinson would have only been a hero to his family and friends instead of to the world.

For over sixty years a group of owners colluded and conspired to prevent black Americans from having an equal, or for that matter any, chance to play in the major leagues. Some found employment elsewhere on their own teams and in their own leagues to varying degrees of success. MLB chose to present an inferior product to their consumers, and individual owners chose to be less competitive than they might have otherwise been. Cap Anson is now demonized as the man who created the Color Line, and deservedly so, but the owners allowed him to do it. Teams changed hands over he course of those sixty years, but no new owners employed blacks, at least not as players.

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