At the beginning of the 1914 baseball season, Andrew Bishop “Rube” Foster believed baseball’s color line was on the verge of being broken.
He talked about it with The Seattle Post-Intelligencer while touring the West Coast with the Chicago American Giants:
“Before another baseball season rolls around colored ball players, a score of whom are equal in ability to the brightest stars in the big league teams, will be holding down jobs in organized baseball…They’re taking in Cubans now, you notice and they’ll let us in soon.”
Billy Lewis, a writer for The Indianapolis Freeman did not share Foster’s optimism:
“It goes without saying it emphatically, that Foster’s opinion sounds mighty good to the ‘poor down-trodden’ colored players who have to do so much ‘tall’ figuring in order to make ends meet. But the plain fact of the matter is that Rube has drawn on his imagination for the better part of his opinion. For as much as I hope and as colored players and people hope for better days for the colored players there’s nothing to warrant what he had to say. Foster is having the time of his life, riding about in special cars out west, and naturally enough with the distinguished consideration paid him and his bunch of players, he feels to give out something worthwhile.
“Rube Foster nor the rest of us should expect to see any change in the baseball situation until there’s a general change…fact is, that our people are not breaking into the big leagues, and there’s no talk of them breaking into the big leagues, and there is not the slightest indication that they are needed. This sounds rather severe, yet it is the truth, and that’s what we need even if we should not want it. It may not make us free as it is so often insisted on.”
“As severe as the foregoing appears it has nothing to do with the playing ability of colored baseball men. Expert sport writers long ago conceded that there were colored baseball players who played the game equal to the ‘high browed’ white players who drew their $3,000 plus per annum. It’s an old story why these competent men are not registered in the great leagues. Really there is less opportunity for Negroes to play with the big leagues in the last few years than formerly. “
Lewis said Foster was wrong to claim that the acceptance of light-skinned Cuban players was positive sign:
“It is generally known that the Negroes stand last in the list of acceptability, hence it is rather poor diplomacy to speak of the preference shown for the Cubans. It is right, all right. Nevertheless, Cubans, Indians, Filipinos and Japanese have the right-of-way so to speak. Of course they are not wholly persona grata, but they are not in the class with the colored players, who are absolutely without friends at court.”
Additionally, Lewis said fans were not ready for integration:
“If the management were inclined to take on the good ones among the colored players, they could not do so with impunity. The box office is more often the dictator of terms than we think. If we had a veritable Ty Cobb among us, and no one cared to see him, what would it matter?
“Foster is positive that he has the greatest player in the world in (John Henry) Lloyd.”
Foster had said of the shortstop:
“It’s a fine boost for Lloyd, coming as it does from the famous Rube himself, yet we all know that if Lloyd was twice himself he would be no good unless it were the general sentiment that a man was a man.”
Lewis felt Foster was deluded by the large percentage of white fans who watched him play when the American Giants barnstormed on the West Coast:
“The far west at this time seems ideal in the matter of patronizing games where colored and white teams are engaged. But in spite of this there is no disposition in that seemingly fair country, to put colored men on the greater teams. So it is not less than an iridescent dream.”
Lewis told his readers he did not disagree with what Foster desired, but said the great pitcher was basing his optimism on the of the wrong people:
“Much of the foregoing doubtless appears as an argument against mixed clubs. It is not that way. The object is to show up the true situation, the further object being to make the most of it. We will not be able to make the most of it as long as we fail to have the proper conception of things. There are white managers who would gladly take on Negro players if it meant something by way of advancing their clubs. But as said before it is the box office that dictates…the man on the bleachers and the man in the grand stand are together, and the manager must come by them…What have these to say about colored players entering the big league? That’s the question.”