Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but to me, it is more than just a game – as it has taught me this valuable lesson – that when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, there will come a day when people of all races will be invited and welcomed to follow their dreams regardless of race, color or creed.
In the game of life, are you a player or an observer? My Papa, Big George, once asked me that question before he told me the stories about the heroes who made baseball the game of life. Papa would always say before you move forward in life, take a moment to look back. So, come with me as I take you back to those dark days of summer when America was segregated, and so too was the game of baseball. Back then, there were the major leagues. Then there were the leagues for people of color only, the Negro leagues, with all-stars like Satchel Page, Gosh Gibson, and James Cool Papa Bell; the fastest man who ever ran the bases. A man who could flick a light switch and get into bed before the room got dark. Still, most Americans never saw those great players in their prime because of their skin color.
It was also a time in History when the good people from the better side of the tracks did not attend the same schools, worship at the same churches, or drink from the same water fountains. The Jim Crow laws of the day even made that illegal. And while many felt in their hearts that segregation was wrong, they remained silent. Everyone knew the owners of both leagues had ties to the vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who didn’t care if the rat was black or white. Mess with their revenues, and it could cost you your life. To protect themselves, even the Negro League players also remained silent, playing for the love of the game. Simultaneously, the Major Leaguers enjoyed the royal treatment with their pictures on these beautiful baseball trading cards.
Initially, I collected baseball cards for the bubble gum in each packet. Then I began collecting by teams regardless of the color and discovered a card, which seemed out of place. The player was Jackie Robinson, the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I even scratched the surface of the card to see if his complexion would change. It “didn’t” – who knew, I might have started scratchers. It was then I asked my Pap, Big George, how did Robinson become a Dodger. And Papa replied: “Son, in 1947 a retired Baptist Minister, Mr. Branch Rickey, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was adamant that if all men are created equal, they should compete equally on a level playing field regardless of color. When he invited Jackie Robinson to join his team, the Dodgers, everyone turned against him. Mr. Rickie refused to remain silent. Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed. And although he was able to silence his critics on the playing field, he still was not accepted as a teammate. In the face of that injustice, Again, Mr. Rickey refused to remain silent, and Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger.
From that moment, I was inspired! I wanted to grow up to be just like Jackie Robinson and was even more committed when I learned that Robinson’s greatest fear was not the death threats he received, but was how he would perform at his first game in the south. When that day came, the good people of the Cincinnati Reds did not fail to disappoint; however, not once did Robinson say anything to disgrace himself or his team. When the umpire: the blue shouted – Play Ball! – Pee Wee Reese, a white player beloved by all, did the unthinkable. Reese walked over to first base with tears in his eyes to recognize Robinson as his teammate in the presence of fans, friends and family – and in that one triumphant moment, baseball became America’s Game.
And so today my friends, as we proudly stand on the shoulders of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Blanche Rickie, all heroes of the game of baseball, I urge you too, to be players and to not just be observers in the game of life. Always remember, when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, the day will come when we all will be invited and welcomed to live our dreams on a level playing field, regardless of race, color or creed in the biggest game of them all, the game of life.
In Honor of Black History Month – February 1st – March 1st – First Delivered 2012 : Henry O. Miller DTM/PDG