“Stars for A’s, Pep for Phils—In Negro Ranks”

13 Jul

The push to integrate baseball in the late 1930s and early 1940s came most frequently from the black press and American Socialists, but occasionally a white voice would call for the color line to be broken.

In May of 1940, with both Philadelphia teams struggling and headed towards last place finishes (Phillies 50-103, and Athletics 54-100), The Philadelphia Record made the case under the headline:

Stars for A’s, Pep for Phils—In Negro Ranks

“Experienced players are available who could strengthen the A’s shaky pitching staff and give the Phils the batting punch they need.  These players could make potential champions out of any of the other also-rans in either major league.”

[…]

“But they are Negroes, and organized baseball says they can’t come in.”

The previous season, Phillies Manager James Thompson “Doc” Prothro, a Memphis native, told The Pittsburgh Courier he would welcome players from the Negro Leagues on his club:

“I certainly would, if given the opportunity to sign up a good Negro ball player.  I need good players, and if I ran across a colored boy who could make the grade I wouldn’t hesitate signing him.”

Doc Prothro

Doc Prothro

The Courier’s Wendell Smith said that when the Phillies manager made the statement:

“Prothro draped his right arm across our shoulders and we walked along, as though to assure us he realized the unfairness of the major league color line.  It seemed he wanted to convince us that he was against it as much as we were.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

Now as Prothro and the Phillies headed towards their second straight 100 loss season, one of Philadelphia’s daily papers agreed that it was time:

“In all baseball law there is not a single line barring colored players from the game.  Several major league managers have said they would jump at the chance to sign the best of them.  Some owners have declared they would vote to admit them.

“But no vote ever is taken on the subject.  No manager or owner dares defy the Jim Crow tradition which in the past has been the most inflexible unwritten law in the game.”

Most importantly, the paper said, the “unwritten law” had left a key group out of the decision:

“No one seems to have consulted the fans…There is an even chance—and a whole lot more—that a few thousand fans who have been staying away from the A’s and the Phils might turn out to see what (Satchel) Paige and (Josh) Gibson and a few more like them, might do in the major leagues.”

The Record never followed up on their call to integrate.  The issue was forgotten in Philadelphia.  As both teams limped to their last place finishes the fans that were never consulted on the issue stayed away in droves. The Athletics drew 432,135—sixth out of eight American League teams.  The Phillies had the worst attendance in the major leagues, just 207,177.

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2 Responses to ““Stars for A’s, Pep for Phils—In Negro Ranks””

  1. Zippy Zappy July 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    Very interesting stuff. Although nothing may have come from this, at the very least this shows that major league baseball has never really considered the fans like many fans (especially modern fans) seem to think they do.

    • Thom Karmik July 20, 2015 at 7:10 am #

      It seems there has been a long history of not caring at all what the fans think, and it doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon.

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