*I decided to tell a story and/or give a little baseball trivia at the end of each practice this season. Partly to give some background of the game we’re playing, the history of the game – I believe you can’t truly love and respect something until you know its history – but also partly for my own selfish interests to make it more interesting and enjoyable for me. These are not written down ahead of time, so this is my best recollection of what was said.
Today we’re going to talk about the Phillies. Last week we talked about how the Phillies didn’t sign a Black player until 1957 after Jackie Robinson had retired. And that they had no interest in playing that player, kept him on the bench, had him pinch run, only gave him two at bats then released him, then didn’t sign another Black player until after the Red Sox were the last to integrate. Today I’m going to tell you a story about the two paths they could have taken and how it ended up the way it did.
We’re going to go back to 1942. First, does anybody know the name Bill Veeck, spelled V-E-E-C-K, looks like Veeke but pronounced like Veck, he had an autobiography called “Veeck as in Wreck.” What about Eddie Gaedel? He was a little 3’7″ player Veeck signed to play. I see some nods. Eddie Gaedel was a little person who Veeck signed to a one day contract, had him pinch hit with a toy bat and told him not to swing. He walked on four pitches and was taken out. He wore number 1/8 on the back of his jersey. Veeck did all sorts of things. He was responsible for the ivy at Wrigley Field. He tried to convince Wrigley to put in lights and play night games. He had the White Sox wear shorts. He had disco demolition night, I think there’s a documentary on Netflix about it, where they destroyed disco records between games of a double header and started a riot and the second game had to be cancelled. He had a game where the fans all had signs like “bunt” or “hit and run” and if enough fans voted one way the team would do that. You guys also already know Veeck because he was the owner of the Indians who signed Larry Doby in 1947 and added Satchel Paige and won the World Series in ’48. (I meant to add but forgot that Veeck volunteered to fight in World War II and was injured and eventually lost his leg. He had a wooden leg and would have an ashtray built into his wooden leg for his cigarettes.)
What about Abe Saperstein, anybody know that name? No, but you probably know his basketball team, The Harlem Globetrotters, who were based out of…? Anybody know? (Harlem is guessed.) Of course, they were from Chicago. Abe Saperstein was a promoter who also promoted and booked Negro League games and would book Satchel Paige out to pitch. So Saperstein knew all the Negro League players.
So in 1942 the Phillies are terrible, and their owner, a guy named Nugent, is deep in debt, and the league tells him he has to sell the team. Bill Veeck makes an agreement to buy the team, they agree on a deal. And Veeck has a plan. He’s going to send his team off to spring training, but he’s going to have a second team full of the Negro League players Saperstein tells him he should sign, and he’ll pay both teams. Then on the day before the season, he’s going to release his entire team and replace them with his Black team. And he thinks this is going to work for two reasons. One, separate but equal. He’s not asking white players to play with Black players, it’s a team full of Black players. And, two, what can the league do? There’s no rule against a Black player, so either the game goes on and he’s integrated baseball, or the other team refuses and forfeits the game. (I meant to add but left out that Veeck knew his team would roll to the championship, and that other teams would be forced to integrate to have ANY chance of being competitive.)
Well, the league finds out about his plan. The commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was put into place specifically to clean up gambling in baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Landis finds out about Veeck’s plan and rather than allow the sale to go through, MLB takes over the Phillies, installs a president, and says they will find a new owner for the team. Eventually they secure a sale to a new owner by the name of Cox, and what happens to him? Before the year is up he’s suspended for gambling on the Phillies. Cox demands a trial, they have a trial, and more evidence comes out that he was in fact gambling on the Phillies, and he’s banned from baseball for life.
The next owner is a guy named Carpenter who’s just flat out racist. In that early season game between the Phillies and Dodgers when Ben Chapman is hurling his racist insults, Carpenter had asked Branch Rickey not to play Jackie Robinson. So when you see that scene in ’42 and it looks like Ben Chapman is just a lone asshole, we now know his whole team was involved and that was with the approval of the owner, it was in line with what he believed.
This is the team that Curt Flood gets traded to when he refuses to go and challenges the reserve clause paving the way for free agency. And he refuses to go for several reasons. One, the Phillies are terrible. Two, he doesn’t want to uproot his whole family. And three, the Phillies and their fans are known for being racist. How does he know this? Because he got traded for a player named Dick Allen.
Dick Allen was an absolute monster. He came up with the Phillies in 1964 and immediately lead the league in runs, triples and total bases, scored 125 runs and won the rookie of the year. Over the years he leads the league in runs, triples, total bases, slugging percentage, OPS. He’s the Phillies best player, hands down. But he gets booed. We talked before about how Jackie Robinson was asked to turn the other cheek, to have the courage not to fight back. Well now we’re talking 1964 to 1969. Remember, Malcolm X is killed in ’65; MLK gets killed in ’68; Robert Kennedy asks people not to riot after MLK is killed, and he’s killed later in ’68. Dick Allen has moved past taking it, he doesn’t want to take it, he wants to point out racist treatment, and he gets labeled as the angry Black man. He gets into a fight with his white teammate who hits him with a bat. Everybody on his team knows it was a racial incident, they get rid of the player who hit him with a bat. But the team puts a gag order on everybody, so the fans just know Dick Allen got a fan favorite white player fired, and they start booing him relentlessly. It gets so bad that Dick Allen starts wearing a helmet in the field for his safety.
He starts writing words in the dirt at first base. The fans boo him, and he write “BOO” in the dirt. Then he writes “WHY?” He writes “STOP.” The league doesn’t like this, and they order him to stop. So he writes “NO.” Then one day he writes out “C-O-K-E,” and everybody wonders what he’s talking about. Is he talking about drugs? What does he do the next inning? There’s a Coke sign out in left field, and he hits a ball OVER the Coke sign in left field, 529 feet away. That lead one of the opposing players to say, “Now I know why the fans boo Dick Allen. When he hits a home run, he hits it so far the fans can’t get the souvenir.”
We talked about how these are not things that happened but things that are happening. So how does this play into today? Well they called Dick Allen “Richie Allen.” That wasn’t his name. He’d never been called Richie Allen. He asked them not to call him Richie. He’s the team’s best player, he’s killing the ball, what does his team do? The next year’s media guide lists him as Richie Allen. They called Henry Aaron “Hank.” He had never been known as Hank. Early in his career people would call out “Hank,” and he’d walk right by because that wasn’t his name. Do you know what they called Roberto Clemente? Bobby. They’d put Bob on his baseball card. He asked people to call him by his name, that his name isn’t Bob.
How does that play in today? What did Francisco Lindor just sign for? 340 million or something? He gave an interview and had to say, “Ya know, I don’t really like to be called “Frankie.” I prefer to be called by Francisco. It’s my name. Please just call me by my name.
What’s the point of all this? Well, there is no point really, I just wanted to share some stories. But if there’s a takeaway from these stories, if there’s an overall theme, it’s “just don’t be an asshole.” Just treat people well, treat them how they want to be treated. Just don’t be an asshole.