MLB Should Be Doing More To Celebrate The 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues
There are a number of reasons why it was overlooked, but MLB‘s announcement of a joint $1 million donation with the MLBPA to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and every team wearing a uniform patch honoring the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues on June 27 was overlooked. Worse than being overlooked, it is not enough.
Major League Baseball owed the Negro Leagues a debt of gratitude for producing players like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. They also owe players like Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell an apology for never being able to prove they were the greatest on the biggest stage in the world.
In baseball history, the Negro Leagues are both a source of pride and shame. The pride comes from their proving anyone, no matter their background, race, or heritage, can be great at baseball. The shame is that another league needed to be created to prove this because of the disturbingly named “Gentleman’s Agreement” to keep black players out of baseball.
Because of that decision, we missed out on seeing the great careers of many black players. We did not get to see Satchel Paige face batters in a Major League Game until he was 41 years old. Think about that. At a time when he should have been retiring, he was just a rookie. All because of the agreement to keep black players out of baseball.
With that decision, not only did the black players lose, but we, as fans, and historians of the game lost. Much like we ponder how Pedro Martinez would have fared against players like Lou Gehrig, we are left to wonder how Smokey Joe Williams would have fared against Babe Ruth.
The obvious difference between the two were Williams and Ruth were contemporaries. They should have faced each other in a game, or quite possibly, have been teammates. However, they couldn’t because of small minded people. That necessitated the creation of the Negro Leagues, and for that, we should eternally grateful for the Negro Leagues as they kept baseball alive in the black community.
For a number of reasons, that is something baseball is struggling to do. For years now, baseball has tried to regrow the game in the black community, and it bemoans how few black players there are. Last year, USA Today noted only 7.7% of players were black, there were 11 teams who did not have more than one black player, and three teams who dd not have one black player.
One of those three teams was Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers. Of course, that does overlook their manager, Dave Roberts, and that has changed with the Dodgers obtaining Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps the next time MLB questions why there are so few fans, they should focus their attention to what they are doing to drive interest in the game. Better put, they should focus on what they are not doing.
This year, they are not doing all they can do to honor the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues are an extremely important part of baseball history. In the centennial celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues, Major League Baseball needed to do more than Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, and Negro Leagues Day on June 27.
This needs to be a year-round celebration. If it wasn’t already planned, MLB should make a push to promote and celebrate players like Betts, Price, Marcus Stroman, and many more players. In addition to donating $1 million the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, they should be hiring former players like Curtis Granderson to find ways to reach out and grow the game.
After all, Granderson has done his part to help grow the game through his charitable endeavors. In fact, he helped build Illinois’ baseball stadium, which is used not just for the college’s baseball team but also for youth events.
The 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues should be celebrated and used as an opportunity to grow the game. It demanded much more than $1 million, which is a paltry sum from MLB and the MLBPA, and more than just a day. This should be a year long celebration with patches appearing on the jerseys of every Major League team throughout the season.
This isn’t just an opportunity to honor and frankly apologize to baseball legends. No, it is also an opportunity to educate and grow the game. By not investing more in the Negro Leagues memory, using this as a launching pad to invest more in the game at the youth level, and not honoring these players all year long, baseball is missing an opportunity here.
Baseball needs to be better and do better. In that sense, perhaps that is the best way to remember the Negro Leagues because it would never have existed in the first place if people were better and strived to do better.