Week of January 12, 2006

Reggie Sanders

Hey Joe: What do you make of the fact that two of the most popular Cardinals players, Reggie Sanders and Ray King — who, if I'm not mistaken, also happen to have been the club's only African-American players — are gone?

Larry "Doby" Gillis, Florissant

For many years now, since former Cardinal outfielder Curt Flood initiated the abolishment of the reserve clause, players have been shuffled from team to team. Regarding Tony La Russa's success as a World Series manager, I can only point to Oakland. It was because of this that he was brought to St. Louis, yet has failed to deliver in spite of Walt Jocketty's attempts to buy him a World Series.

In this respect, I am sympathetic towards the fans, because they foot the bills while failing to realize they're the boss. Remember, back in 1947, it was mostly black fans' support of Jackie Robinson (they jammed white baseball parks) that destroyed the Negro League. Fans are the employer and the team owner and players are the employees. In other words, once they grow tired of being used, they have the power to stop it.

At the time of the demise of the Negro League, it was Black America's third-largest enterprise; the other two were insurance businesses. However, due to Flood laying his career on the line to abolish the reserve clause — a document that gave white team owners the power to hold players indefinitely — free agency was born, propelling players from rags to riches.

Currently, every Major League roster has blacks and Latinos, though before Robinson the Negro League was the only resource they had to play ball professionally. As a result, they are byproducts of the Negro League. Their contributions to the game are unparalleled. Curt Flood not only demonstrated greatness as a player, but also as a humanitarian. This he did by spearheading the way for every player, regardless of nationality, to capitalize by earning millions. Until black players stand in defense of the Negro League, I couldn't care less if they ever make a million.

As for Reggie Sanders and Ray King, they are prime examples of the Cardinals' biased past in relation to dealing with blacks. Remember, it was the Cardinals who threatened to strike against Robinson if he was allowed to play. There is one thing I must say about King: He was right about voicing his opinion. It gave La Russa the opportunity he needed to cover his losing butt. I saw the beginning of his alibi when he jumped on the umpires in Houston, shortly before Pujols' game-winning home run. Other than be retained in St. Louis to become the game's winningest active manager, numerous blacks and Latinos could accomplish what La Russa has done here — including Jose Oquendo, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock and others.

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'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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