Ray Hughes, St. Louis
Long before the civil rights movement, the nation's lawmakers were white. After the movement, blacks with money, such as O.J. Simpson and Leonard Little, were able to escape severe punishment for offenses against the law. If neither had money, they would have wound up like the title of the song "Bye Bye Blackbird."
In reference to La Russa, however, you can bet that he will be vindicated, but not in the minds of many baseball fans. There is no doubt that Cards fans are the most loyal in baseball but during the course of this season, Tony will be reminded over and over again about his highly publicized wine-drinking incident. It wouldn't surprise me if somebody nicknamed him "Wine," especially if some of his baseball strategy backfired. But being called Wine shouldn't be taken as a slap in the face. I remember a guy in my hometown who was called Wine. He was the best person anybody would want to meet; he just liked drinking wine.
Recently, after the Cards were swept by the Mets, I heard a few members of the press talk about La Russa as though he had a tail. This happened many times last year when the team was seemingly down and out. "Hypocrisy" is a term that fits many of the Cards' radio and TV personalities. In other words, when the team is hot, it's unbeatable; when they're down, they're ostracized. This type of judgment could affect the fans, but they are too loyal to concede.
Much has been said about black fans and players returning to the MLB, but I've never read a story more succinct than "Trying to Reclaim That Thrill from the Greatest Game" by Otis L. Sanford of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. It was published the day after the so-called Civil Rights Game, which involved the Cards. He outlined his position on things about the game that once were important to him. Speaking about the Cards' media guide, he says, "I come across the only American-born black player listed in the guide, outfielder Preston Wilson, who joined the Cardinals last August, just in time for the title run." In a later passage, he states, "There are six pages devoted to profiles of the team's front office executives and I discover, to no surprise, they're all male and all white. (And this team was picked to participate in Saturday's first-ever Civil Rights Game?)"
Although I am a former Negro Leaguer, this same game caused me to lose respect for the National Civil Rights Museum, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Negro League Baseball Museum for accepting money from it, while remaining silent about Bud Selig, who earned $14.5 million last year and cut Negro League history short by refusing to give some of its members pensions. Cards management has a history of short-changing blacks, such as denying black women the opportunity to attend games on Ladies' Day and so many other things I can name. Even now, other than bilking its loyal fans out of their money, management cares less about their well-being.
Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.
Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.
Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.
After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.
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