Just as often, if not more often, they have a shameful undercurrent.
Major League Baseball’s color line and the vicious and stupid bigotry of lots of the most powerful men in so-called “organized baseball” from Cap Anson to Kenesaw Mountain Landis prevented Paige and many other great black ballplayers from starring alongside Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson.
But as Timothy Gay demonstrates in his new book, Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson, showmanship, flexibility, and the profit motive trumped ignorance and racism to some extent when the Major League Baseball season was over. Barnstorming tours often featured black and white players, sometimes as teammates. Under Commissioner Landis, Major League Baseball tried to prevent Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and the teammates they recruited from sharing ball fields with Negro Leaguers. Happily, Landis’s authority was not as absolute as he always said it was. It did not extend to cornfields in Nebraska or wherever everybody used to repair to in order to watch a ballgame in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Paige was certainly the most energetic of all the barnstormers, and probably the most successful, though statistics can be misleading when the pitcher to whom they refer has thrown two innings for each of three different teams in three different states on the same Sunday.
Dean was as sneaky smart as Feller was fast, and both of them deserve credit for recognizing not only that the black players who were part of their traveling shows would draw a crowd, but that they were fine athletes and desirable partners in a segment of the baseball business always more egalitarian and sometimes more entertaining than what was going in the Big Leagues.
This program aired on March 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.