“Our” National Past Time

Baseball is back again… finally.  On Wednesday in between leaving class and driving to work I was able to sneak in a few moments of the Giants’ Spring Training exhibition against the Cleveland Indians (indigenous people as sports mascots:   fuck that racist shit) on the radio.  As luck would have it I tuned in just in time to hear Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholtz hit back-to-back home runs.  Sweet.  

As far as I can remember I’ve loved baseball.  I love how the slow pace of the game draws out instances of tension and suspense.  I enjoy the sudden gasps of a crowd as the game unexpectedly switches gears from slow motion trudge to break-neck foot race.  I enjoy memories from my youth such as when my younger brother and I lept up in the air into an embrace as we heard over the radio Robby Thompson hitting an extra inning  walk-off home run on a lazy summer afternoon.  Most of all, however, I am forever grateful to how learning the history of the game helped to crystalize my early understanding race in America.  

Through very sly PR efforts professional baseball incessantly talks about the contributions of African Americans to the sport and how now that segregation in baseball is “over” racism has now magically disappeared.  Uh… yeah sure.  The occaisional PSA about Jackie Robinson breaking the color line during Black History month, however, did not satiate my hunger for knowledge about people of color and their involvement in my favorite sport.

I picked up a biography of Jackie Robinson (the only Dodger whom I actually begrudgingly admit to have respect for), read a few stories about the Negro Leagues, and learned how the first Japanese MLB player, Masanori “Mashi” Murakami, played for the San Francisco Giants.  Most of these stories contained a number of uncomfortable anecdotes containing racial slurs, general ignorance of white people, and in a few cases some very startling manifestations of internalized racism.  One of the stories I read was about a black minor leaguer who was not allowed to stay with the rest of his team in a segregated hotel during an away game.  When the team manager came to visit him in his “separate but equal” accommodations, the player went into a fit tearing and scratching at his skin in a vain attempt to scrape the melanin off his body.  After his manager had finally consoled him, the player paused for a moment and stared at his hands.  He muttered “Black skin… if only it were white”. Suddenly the idea of the American dream didn’t really seem to hold water for me.  

Histories of the Negro Leagues were always equally intriguing as they were frustrating for me.  (Obviously neither the first time nor the last time that white people put people of color in separate spaces in order to avoid being shown up by an “inferior race.”)  Racial segregation in  baseball shortchanged some of the greatest African Americans to play the game by never allowing them to actually play in the “real” major leagues despite some of them being far superior to certain white athletes who were (and still are) the icons of the “golden age” of the sport.  

 

Ben Sackoguchi - THE UNAUTHORIZED HISTORY OF BASEBALL

I’ll take Josh Gibson over Babe Ruth any day.  Sorry Whitey.

 

Probably one of the most interesting stories that I have come upon regarding African Americans in baseball is that of  Mamie “Peanut” Johnson:  A woman who pitched in the Negro Leagues in the 1950s.  Apparently she was not just some fluke who got lucky as some idiot male supremacists and white supremacists would probably like to think.  She brought the heat and had a good number of befuddled batters enjoying a long walk back to the dugout.  

 

A Strong Arm - Michelle Y. Green.

A Strong Right Arm - Michelle Y. Green.

 

In 1953, Bish Tyson, a former player with the Negro League, observed Ms. Johnson practicing on a field in Washington, D.C. He was overwhelmed by her athletic abilities. He maintained that she was a great player and suggested that she play professional baseball. He introduced her to Bunny Downs, Manager of the Indianapolis Clowns. After one tryout, Mamie Johnson made the team. What an outstanding achievement for a female athlete!

While pitching her first game with the Clowns, a batter on the opposing team yelled to her, “”What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren’t any larger than a peanut!”” Mamie never said a word, but the batter soon found out what she could do! 1 – 2 – 3 – OUT! From that day, the 100 pound baseball player had the nickname, Peanut.

Mamie ‘Peanut,’ Johnson played professional baseball for three seasons, from 1953 to 1955, with the Indianapolis Clowns. During her tenure, she won 33 games and lost 8 games. Her batting average ranged from .262 to .284. Of this opportunity, she exclaimed, “Just to know that you were among some of the best male ball players that ever picked up the bat, made all of my baseball moments great moments.”

So, as baseball season continues throughout this summer I will continue to reflect upon the great simulacra that is professional sports and how these silly games which ultimately are irrelevant to our day-to-day lives provide distraction and perpetuate dare I say it, false consciousness amongst the oppressed.  Despite this, however, I will not recant my fanaticism for baseball (among other sports) and regardless of how I believe that we should all organize and unify along the interests of the working class I will ALWAYS hate the Dodgers.

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