In January of 1980, my family moved to the town where we currently live. I’ve raised a child here, I’ve seen the town grow and prosper, I’ve seen the town have deep financial trouble. I’ve also seen youth baseball have problems.
By baseball season 1980 we were established in town and I had free time to coach a youth team. I found the man who ran the program and volunteered to coach. At the time he thought there would be enough coaches, but took my name. A week or so later, after the teams had been chosen for the season, he called back to tell me he had one too many teams at age 10. Would I take the team? I said sure. He drove over to the house with the list of players (they were the leftovers from the team draw) for my team, which I immediately called the Dodgers. Then came the following comment from him, “A couple of these kids are black. Is that a problem?”
It took a second to rehinge my dropped lower jaw before I asked “Can they hit?” It wasn’t the most brilliant or noble line I ever came up with, but in my defense, I was totally stunned. It was 1980 and all that sort of thing was supposed to be behind us (silly me). We were now supposed to be equal before both God and the law and I was being asked if I had a problem with having a black kid on my team. The question itself told me that a problem had occurred recently in the local league or that the guy talking to me was a first-rate bigot (I’ve known him for years and can assert he isn’t.).
Anyway, I took the team, took the two black kids (one could hit, one couldn’t) and took on the season. We finished in the middle of the pack during the season and finished second in the postseason tournament. I coached again for several seasons, getting my son all the way through the youth baseball league, then gave it up. I don’t recall being asked a question like that again. I had teams that were integrated and teams that weren’t. We did well some years and awful others, but race did not become an issue on the team, nor did it seem to be an issue with other teams (but I won’t swear it wasn’t). My team parents had the same problems Little League parents always have: “Hey, Ump, you’d need glasses if you could see.” “ Hey, coach, how come that other kid is starting instead of my kid?” Hey… “. What I don’t remember is anyone questioning why the black kids were playing or asserting we’d be better (or worse) if we had more (or less) black players.
This concludes my experiences with youth baseball and the issue of race. I think we’ve gotten a little better over the years since I first ran across the problem. If we can do that in sports, maybe we can do it in other aspects of our society. Well, I can at least hope.