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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘After Jackie’ honors a trio of Black baseball pioneers

After+Jackie+honors+a+trio+of+Black+baseball+pioneers
Alex Kendall

On April 15, 1947, 28-year-old Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers, officially breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. While Robinson was not the first Black player in baseball history, he remains one of the greatest symbols of Black excellence in the United States for his accomplishments on and off the field.

In school, we’re taught that his perseverance integrated baseball and America’s pastime and was used as a bridge toward equality during the Civil Rights Movement. But when Robinson retired from baseball after the 1956 season, the first generation of Black ballplayers to carry on his legacy were inevitably met with new obstacles of their own. The documentary “After Jackie” explores a few of those stories.

“After Jackie” focuses on the stories of three teammates on the two-time World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960s: ace pitcher Bob Gibson, center fielder Curt Flood and first baseman Bill White. The trio played seven seasons together, from 1959 to 1965, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The film shows how the efforts of these men should be told with Robinson’s story as each of them created change and progress in baseball and society.

BOB GIBSON

Out of the three, Gibson is the only athlete in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and one of the first Black ace pitchers in baseball history. On the field, Gibson collected accolades like Halloween candy.

He won two Cy Young awards, two World Series, an MVP, nine Gold Gloves and became the first player ever to win two World Series MVPs. His career highlight came in the 1968 season that began with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., less than a week before Opening Day. Gibson finalized the season with an otherworldly 1.12 ERA, the best mark at the time (among qualified pitchers) since 1914.

Off the field, Gibson sparked change in players’ housing management and treatment while on the road. Gibson spent his formative athletic years staying in separate hotels than his teammates, which teammate Tim McCarver said in the documentary was known as “colored town” to white residents.

To improve the conditions for Black players, Gibson looked to a more confrontational personality in the clubhouse — Bill White.

BILL WHITE

As White explains in the documentary, a part of the game for Black players was having rocks thrown at your bus, being bombarded with racial taunts and slurs, staying in terrible housing and receiving lower pay than white teammates. Under all this adversity, White took matters into his own hands and began to fight back.

To all of the players’ surprise, he got a meeting with team owner and heir to the Anheuser-Busch companies, August Busch. White threatened a Budweiser boycott, which scared Busch because the company was the No. 1 seller of beer to the Black community at the time. As a result, Busch purchased a brand-new hotel not just for the Black players, but the whole team.

After retiring in 1969 at the age of 35, White turned to broadcasting, where he became the first Black play-by-play announcer for a major sports team. His greatest accomplishment came 20 years later, when he was unanimously elected as the new National League President in 1989. He was the first Black man to lead a major professional sports league in the U.S.

CURT FLOOD

Flood was the spark plug of the group. He wore No. 42 in honor of Robinson and played with the same heart.

He was an electric ballplayer with elite contact skills and displayed incredible athleticism in the field. Flood won a Gold Glove in seven consecutive seasons from 1963-1969 and batted over .300 in five of them. But it was his fight against the front offices that brought racial and ethical issues to the forefront of MLB.

In 1972, Flood brought his contractual concerns all the way to the Supreme Court after filing a lawsuit against commissioner Bowie Kuhn for violating human rights under the reserve clause, which reserves this player’s contract rights to one team even if he is sold or traded. Flood said in an interview featured in the film that this rule is just another form of slavery.

However, the documentary didn’t spend much time talking about the case itself and the history of the reserve clause. After small outside research, it’s clear that Flood was not the first person to fight back against executives.

While Flood lost the case, his efforts made way for MLB to remove the clause and adopt a new system of free agency, giving players more control of their contract terms.

TAKEAWAYS

I think more baseball fans need to watch documentaries like this because it may help us focus on the real legends and not on the players we’ve been told were legends. 

The documentary takes the time to highlight each player individually and illustrates how their stories continue to create change and opportunity for not just Black players, but all players, even today. However, there were more stories missing. 

The film’s tagline references a new generation of Black ballplayers. I was disappointed by this structure when there was no mention of Larry Doby — the first Black man to play in the American League — and only one small reference to Satchel Paige. I finished the film thinking about all the cool connections missed with the absence of those icons.

After watching “After Jackie,” it’s clear to me that the Eras Committee needs to elect Flood and White into the Hall of Fame. They both possess the feats necessary, especially when discussing the contributions of Black baseball. There would be no free agency without Flood and fewer opportunities for people of color in the game if it weren’t for the work of White. 

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Aidan Sheedy, Photography Editor

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