Posts Tagged ‘integration’

Integrating Youth Baseball, III

July 16, 2010

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.

Integrating Youth Baseball, II

July 14, 2010

As a followup to my previous post, my new town was larger than the first, but had a smaller black population. I played four years of youth baseball there. We finished first twice, second once, and third the other time. There were a handful of black kids in the league, but not on my team. I don’t remember a lot of trouble between the black kids and the players on my team and certainly can’t speak to how that worked with other teams.

I went into the US Army, spent an awful year in Viet Nam, then because I had some time left in the service, was sent to a small army post in Northern Virginia. There were enough kids to form one youth team and few adults willing to coach it. I managed to hook on as an assistant, handling the infield and coaching first base. The team had all of eleven players, most white, a couple were black, and one kid whose folks were of Filipino ancestry. We were good. Well, they were good, I just coached. The post team was traditionally part of the local town league and this season was no different. There were six teams in the local league and we rolled to the title easily (the only time I ever helped coach a team to first place). On the team itself there seemed to be no racial problems, at least none that I spotted. But that wasn’t true in the league itself. One of the teams was integrated, with ours having the most black players. I can’t speak to team unity on other teams, but I didn’t see any particular problems. What I saw was the parents.

Now Little League parents are famous, or perhaps infamous. These had the same problems (as did some of our parents). But several of these had another problem. Coaching at first base, you are frequently the person closest to the parents of the other team so you hear things other members of your team wouldn’t. There were such classic lines as “Well, if we had that many black kids we’d be winning too.” By the way, “black” isn’t the word I most commonly heard, but this is a family site. “Well, what do you expect? Look at that black kid run.” There wasn’t a lot of obvious overt racism until you listened to the parents. Again, I left after that season and only heard that the post team did well the next year.

Next I want to pass along an experience I had in my new hometown. That should conclude this topic.

Integrating Youth Baseball

July 12, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a small town raised by grandparents. It was a time when social change was just beginning. The civil rights movement was in its infancy. Brown vs School Board was law of the land, Rosa Parks had decided she was tired, and of course Jackie Robinson was in Brooklyn, but most of the rest of it hadn’t occurred yet. In my little town I first ran across it in baseball.

I played little league baseball (I don’t capitalize it because I don’t know if we were associated with Little League or not). Now no one was going to mistake me for Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio and certainly not for Jackie Robinson. I was a decent fielder and had been put in center field because I was fast and could catch. I didn’t have much of an arm and my batting was suspect, but I usually led off because I could tell a strike from a ball and almost never struck out. Of course the team was all-white.

Then somebody decided it was time to integrate the schools and the summer league baseball teams. That came as a shock to the town. My grandparents weren’t sure how good an idea that was, but as there were only a handful of black families in town, they decided it probably wasn’t worth worrying about. 

So when baseball season came around I signed up again. We had different rules then.  You played four years at the same level (instead of the two years that is common around here) and once you were put on a team you stayed there the entire four years. That was supposed to help you develop friends and learn from the same coach every year. (Of course that works better if you like the coach and your teammates.) So I knew where I was playing before the teams were set up.

A total of three black kids signed up and sure as taxes our team got two of them. After the first practice, when it became evident that there were black kids around, we lost two or three players. Their parents weren’t about to let them play on an integrated team. The coach was a problem also. He spent almost no time working with either kid, let them play as sparingly as the rules allowed, and pinch hit for them if he could. At least he didn’t call either one “boy.”

 The rules required each player to be in the field one inning of of six inning games. Generally, the coach put one black kid in right field in the fifth inning and the other replaced him in the sixth. My job, according to coach, was to play toward right field so I could make the plays if necessary. That was a good idea, especially if the right fielder, black or white, had gotten as little training as the coach gave the two black kids. 

My reaction to all this was mixed. On the one hand I knew it was causing problems for the team. We had, after all lost a couple of players because of integration. On the other, I was, as I’ve mentioned before, a huge Jackie Robinson fan, so I didn’t mind playing with the two black guys. I thought they might make us better and I wanted to win bad enough I didn’t care what color they were. Not the noblest of reasons to support integration but at age nine you don’t think much beyond things like that.  

We finished about the same place in the league standings we did the previous year, third or fourth.  I moved before the next season started so I don’t know what happened to either the team, the coach, or if the black kids played the next year or not. In another post I’ll keep this theme going.