Haywood Broun, columnist for The New York World-Telegram, shook up the annual Baseball Writers Association dinner in February of 1933. The Pittsburgh Courier said Broun “struck out boldly in advocacy of admitting Negroes to the charmed circle of big leagues.”
Broun said (and later wrote in The World-Telegram):
“I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.
“Why in the name of fair play and gate receipts should professional baseball be so exclusive?”
“The introduction of a few star Negro ball players would do a great deal to revivify interest in the big leagues. It would attract a number of colored rooters. And it would be a fair and square thing. If baseball is really the national game let the club owners go out and prove it.”
Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News said he polled the dinner guests after Broun’s remarks:
“I made an informal tour around the tables asking club owners and players their reactions to Broun’s little talk. I was amazed at the sentiment in favor of the idea.”
Powers claimed that Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey, and Babe Ruth were all in support of Broun’s statement. John McGraw the dinner’s guest of honor—he had resigned as manager of the New Giants the previous summer due to his failing health—was, according to Powers, “The only prominent man present vetoing” the idea.
John McGraw vetoed the idea
Salem Tutt Whitney, a prominent star of the black vaudeville circuit, commented on McGraw in the pages of The Chicago Defender:
“John McGraw and his Giants have been the idols of the Colored baseball fans. Whenever and wherever there had been talk about the color line in major league baseball, the Colored fans were a unit that declared that if John McGraw could have his way there would be no color line. ‘Didn’t he play (Charlie) Grant at second base on the Giants!’ ‘Look how long he employed a Colored trainer (Ed Mackall)!’”
“It is my opinion that if the Colored baseball fans of Harlem are not convinced that Mr. McGraw has nothing more to do with the Giants, there will be a lack of personal color in bleachers and stands at the Giants’ stadium this summer.”
Salem Tutt Whitney
Not content to simply report on Broun’s pitch for integration, Powers made his own:
“I would like to make a case for the colored baseball player. In football, Duke Slater, Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson and stars of similar complexion played with and against the cream of Nordic colleges. Eddie Tolan, Ralph Metcalfe and Phil Edwards have conducted themselves in a gentlemanly—not to mention championship—fashion. Boxing has known Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Joe Walcott and Tiger Flowers. There are only three popular sports in which the dark-skinned athletes are snubbed—tennis, golf and baseball.”
The New York Age approved:
“Here’s hoping all the other big white sportswriters have the courage of Jimmy Powers.”
Chester Washington, a sports writer at The Pittsburgh Courier announced that the paper was launching “A symposium of opinion, coming from outstanding figures in baseball circles,” designed to demonstrate a broad coalition of support for integration.
The Courier reported “The first of these statements,” in response to Washington’s outreach the following week—and it was a rather incredible one from John Heydler, president of the National League, who said:
“Beyond the fundamental requirement that a major league player must have unique ability and good character and habits, I do not recall one instance where baseball has allowed either race, creed or color enter into the selection of its players.”
Gerald Nugent “aggressive young owner of the Phillies,” was next to respond to The Courier:
“Nugent calls attention to the fact that no ‘color line’ is drawn on the dollars which are spent by colored and white fans for admissions in the various big-league parks…He further declares that the average colored semi-pro league player is better than his white brother in the same category.”
Support continued to come. Chicago White Sox President J. Louis Comiskey:
“You can bet your last dime that I’ll never refuse to hire a great athlete simply because he isn’t the same color of some other player on my team if the alleged bar is lifted.”
While Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis did not respond to The Courier, his right-hand man, Leslie O’Connor said “(T)here isn’t any rule which keeps colored players out.” But, like Heydler, he made the incredible claim that “the subject of Negro ball players had never been brought up,” among the Major League Advisory Council.
Based on the initial responses, William Goldwyn Nunn, The Courier’s managing editor, expressed great, if premature, optimism:
“And the color will be black!
“As sure as the Ides of March are approaching, there’s going to be some added color in the Major Leagues. AND, THAT COLOR WILL BE BLACK!”
Meanwhile Jimmy Powers quoted Lou Gehrig and Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals in The Daily News, all said they were “open-minded,” about the possibility integration.
Two more prominent sportswriters came out in support: Dan Parker of The New York Daily Mirror, and Gordon Mackay, who had been sports editor of three Philadelphia papers—The Enquirer, The Press and The Public Ledger.
And then, as abruptly as it began, the movement died.
Despite the brief groundswell of support, by the time the major league season opened Alvin J. Moses, another writer for The Courier admonished the papers readers:
“Aren’t you somewhat ashamed of yourselves that you haven’t seen fit to spare the time to flood (the paper) with letters that cry out against these NEGROPHOBES who for more than half a century have kept Negro ballplayers out of league competition?
“The cry of ‘Play Ball, Play Ball, Play Ball?’ is heard today in hundreds of parks the county over, and baseball statisticians have figured to show more than 40,000,000 fans walk past the turnstiles. But what does that cry mean to you, and you, and you? Well, I’ll tell you—absolutely nothing.”