“It is Against the Best Interests of Baseball”

13 Feb

Wendell Smith spent most of his tenure at The Pittsburgh Courier making the case for the integration of professional baseball—he spent an equal amount of time decrying the way the Negro American and National Leagues operated.

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Wendell Smith

With the owners preparing to  convene at New York’s Theresa Hotel in December of 1944, Smith made the case he had made on many occasions in the past: the need for a Negro League Commissioner:

Smith said:

“If any group of businessmen ever needed a boss, a guy with a big stick, it’s negro baseball.”

But, he said:

“I don’t know what the magnates are going to do, and what I gather, they don’t know either. “

Of most concern to Smith was that the two league presidents—Tom Wilson, the Nashville businessman who was president of the American League, and John B. Martin, the Memphis dentist who was president of the National, both were team owners; Wilson of the Baltimore Elite Giants and Martin of the Chicago American Giants:

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Wilson

“This dual role is against the best interests of baseball.”

Smith chided Martin for agreeing that a commissioner was needed, but at the same time claiming there would be no qualified candidates until after the end of World War II:

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Martin

“Mr. Martin says that Negro baseball should continue in the same rut it is in until after the war.”

Smith said of Martin’s claim:

“To keep insisting that there isn’t a man capable of serving as commissioner is, of course, a lot of tommy-rot—and is simply a way of evading the issue. There are many capable men and I’m sure one of them would accept the job if the owners put enough financial support behind such a position.  The man appointed to such a job must be well known, courageous and unswerving.  He must be a man who has been successful in other fields and one who has had administrative experience.”

While Smith might have been the best candidate, he did not advance himself for the position, instead offering three viable candidates.

The first, was recently retired three-term Illinois Congressman Arthur Mitchell—Mitchell was the first Democratic African American elected to Congress.

His second recommendation was John Warren Davis, who as president of West Virginia State College took the school—as The New York Times said, “an unaccredited land grant school,” when he arrived in 1919, into an accredited college which “became the first black school to seek integration in the South.”

Smith’s third choice was Judge William Hastle, a former and future federal judge who, the previous year, had resigned his position as a civilian aide to Secretary of War Henry Stimson over segregated training facilities and the inequity of assignments between white and non-white military personnel.

Smith said all three would “do an excellent job,” but that they would “demand decent salaries and full and complete authority,” and therefore none would be appointed.

Smith said:

“It is indeed tragic that Negro baseball must continue to operate on the slip-shod basis it has existed on for so long.  It has grown to the point where it is now a two to three-million-dollar business.  It is one of the largest businesses operated by Negroes in this country and is a means of livelihood, directly and indirectly, for at least two thousand people.  Negro baseball is no longer a novelty.  It is a major business and I’m afraid that someday it is going to be killed by the very people who are thriving off of it now.”

Smith’s prediction was correct.  No commissioner was selected at the Theresa Hotel meeting, the subject appears to have never been addressed.  Reporters were barred from the first day of meetings, but as Smith said, “the scribes gave vent to their feelings so forcefully,” they were allowed in the second day.

Martin and Wilson were easily reelected as presidents of their respective leagues.

As Smith had assumed, the issue was shelved again, and the 1944 winter meeting turned out to be:

“(J)ust another one of those get togethers where everyone has a hell of a nice time,”

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