Thirteen tears ago this spring, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the only Negro player in major league baseball. He made a yearly salary of only $5,000. Last season 57 of the 400-odd players in the National and American leagues were Negroes and were paid a total salary just short of $1 million.
This is an article from the March 21, 1960 issue
The Negro major leaguers make up what is now probably the most interesting group in sports. "Negroes aren't supposed to stick together," says Cincinnati Pitcher Brooks Lawrence, "but the closest kind of adhesion I've ever known has been among Negro ballplayers." The Negro players live in a private world that their white teammates do not enter. They have their own hangouts, such as the Sportsman Club in Los Angeles. "That's headquarters there," says one. "We won't be in town a half hour before we check in to see what's going on."
They have their own slang, and they guard it closely. "Why should I tell you what they mean?" demanded St. Louis Infielder-Outfielder Bill White when I asked him the meaning of "mullion" and "hog-cutter." "Maybe they're secret words. Maybe we've got a code of our own. Ask someone else, not me. I'm not going to tell you." They have their own nicknames. One player is Old Folks, another is Snake. They have their own code of behavior.
They have their own leaders. Top banana at present is George Crowe, a 36-year-old utility first baseman for St. Louis. They have certain reservations about white and Latin Negro players. In addition to all this, the Negro major leaguers occupy a special position in Negro society at large. They are, says Professor E. Franklin Frazier, chairman of the Department of Sociology at Howard University, "an important part of the bourgeoisie elite."
The Negro's participation in baseball goes back almost as far as the white's. The first Negro professional, Bud Fowler, began playing in the 1860s. He stopped in the '90s because of the color line, but if he had been lighter he could have played on. The first Negroes to appear in a major league box score were the Walker brothers—Fleet, a catcher, and Welday Wilberforce, an outfielder—who both played briefly in 1884 with Toledo of the American Association. They had to quit when the team was threatened with mob violence in Richmond. Fleet went to Newark where he caught George Stovey, a famous Negro pitcher, but in 1887 he and Stovey left baseball after Cap Anson of the White Stockings balked at playing against them in an exhibition. The color line had been drawn.
Negroes formed their own teams. Waiters at a smart Long Island hotel formed the first one. To get games, they called themselves the Cuban Giants, and on the field they spoke a gibberish that was supposed to be Spanish. Negro leagues followed shortly. Certainly, some players were good enough to star in the majors-Josh Gibson, the home run hitter, for one—but the color line held firm, though now and then it bent slightly. While managing Baltimore at the turn of the century, John McGraw signed Charlie Grant, a Negro second baseman, and claimed he was an Indian named Tokohoma. The ruse worked until Tokohoma went to Chicago for an exhibition game. Jubilant Negro fans jammed the stands and waved a banner reading OUR BOY, CHARLIE GRANT.
While Grant failed, several light-skinned Negroes undoubtedly did "pass" into organized ball. In his later days, Bud Fowler said he knew of three or four. In the 1920s Negro players gossiped that Babe Ruth himself was passing. "Look at his nose, his lips," says one oldtimer. (It is not uncommon for Negroes to lay claim to a celebrity who has features that may be Negroid. "The Negroes," says Frazier, "as with any people who have a low status and a negatively valued world, want to go ahead and neutralize that by claiming important people are Negroes.")
Life in the Negro leagues was hard. A star might play in as many as three games a day and earn only $400 or $500 a month. But after Jackie Robinson broke in, major league clubs began to pick the Negro leagues clean. The Negro National League collapsed. The Negro American League limps on, with teams traveling by bus from Greenwood, Miss., to Flint, Mich. for one-night stands.
The major league club with the most Negroes is San Francisco. Ten of the 37 players on the Giants' winter roster are colored. The man responsible is Alex Pompez, a 67-year-old Negro who owned the New York Cubans in the Negro National League. Pomp has played a part in the signing of practically every Negro in the Giant organization. He got Willie Mays for $10,000, Willie Kirk-land for $2,000 and Willie McCovey for $500. His job with the Giants is unique. First of all, he is in charge of scouting all Negro and Latin players. Secondly, he is in charge of all Negro and Latin prospects during spring training. He supervises their food, living quarters (he bunks Dominicans with Dominicans, Cubans with Cubans), manners (no hats on when eating) and dress. He gives little pep talks.
"When they first start out," Pompez says, "I tell my boys, 'If you want to stay in organized baseball, you got to do things a little bit better. You got to fight, play hard and hustle.' And they do. They're more ambitious, and they're hungry. Every year we got the leading hitter, most valuable player, the big home run hitter." His most delicate task is explaining the color line to Latin Negroes who are new to the segregated South. "When they first come here they don't like it," he says. "Some boys cry and want to go home. But after they stay and make big money, they accept things as they are. My main thing is to help them. They can't change the laws."
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
The segregation issue—in fact, the American Negro's low status in U.S. society in general—is the basis for the friction between Latin Negro and American Negro players. With the exception of a few—for example, Felix Mantilla and Juan Pizarro of Milwaukee—Latin Negroes do not willingly mingle with American Negroes off the field.
The reason is simple and painful: to be a Negro in the United States is to be socially inferior. Therefore Latin Negroes are not Negroes, at least as far as they themselves are concerned. They are Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans. Now American Negroes don't feel that Latin Negroes should be compelled to associate with them, but what they often resent is the Latin Negro's attitude. "I don't think I'm any better than they are," says an American Negro, "but I'm not any worse, either. They think they're better than the colored guy."
Another player told me, "You could write a book about those guys. We never see them unless we happen to have some choice material or where they're uncertain about some things." ("Material" is the not very flattering colloquialism for girls.) Told that Latin Negroes sometimes cry when they encounter segregation for the first time, the player said, "I don't cry. We don't cry, and we have it a hell of a lot worse than they do. But we're conditioned, I guess." The player said that while he was in the minors he roomed with a Latin Negro. "I showed him the ropes, how to order eggs and things." The player came back to the room one day and found that the Latin had moved out. The Latin tried to run around with the white players, but "they wouldn't tell him where they were having dinner," so he came back. "But I wouldn't take him. He didn't want me, so I didn't want him."
THE HOODOO MAN
Mal Goode, of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, makes it a practice to have Negro players home for dinner when they play in Pittsburgh. Goode says he heard about a Latin Negro who was unhappy at not having been invited. "I invited him," Goode says. "After dinner he rubbed his skin and said, almost in tears, 'They say me no want to be colored, Mal. Look at me, Mal. What else can I be?' He said language was the barrier, but the players say differently, at least about the others."
Besides language, there are other differences. The Latin likes his food highly seasoned. He has his own customs and traditions. Pompez recalls how he used a Cuban witch doctor, a brujo, to get Minnie Minoso for the New York Cubans. "I was in Havana, and I wanted to sign Minoso," he says. "But he wouldn't come. He wouldn't even talk to me. Then I heard about this hoodoo man, this brujo. He shined shoes in Havana. I was told to see him. So the first day I went there I say nothing. I have him shine my shoes, then I give him a half-dollar tip and go away. The next day I went back and do the same thing. The third day he says, 'Don't I know you?' I said, 'Maybe. My picture's in the paper. I'm Pompez of the New York Cubans.' He asks me, 'What are you doing in Havana?' I tell him I want to sign Minoso, but he won't sign. I ask the brujo, 'Do you know Minoso?' He laughs ha, ha, ha, like he's going to fall down and says, 'Do I know Minoso!' I ask, 'Can you get Minoso to come to the United States to play ball?' He says, 'Yes.' I ask, 'How do you know that?' And he laughs again, and he says, 'If Minoso no go with you, his leg be broken!' I tell him, 'O.K., you get me Minoso, and I will bring you to the United States the year after next as a coach.' He says O.K., and I tell him where I will be the next night so Minoso can sign the contract. Sure enough, right at 6 o'clock, there's a knock on the door. It's Minoso. He doesn't say a word. I give him the pen, and he signs to play with the New York Cubans. That's it. Later I sold him to Cleveland for $7,500.
"The next year," and here Pomp's voice becomes hushed, "I bring the brujo to the U.S. as a coach. I give him a uniform. He is now coach. Now in all my years in the Negro National League I have never won a pennant. The brujo comes up to me and he says, 'Hey, Pompez, is it true that you have never won the pennant?' I say, 'That's right. In all these years, I've never won the pennant.' You know what? The brujo, he looks at me and he says, 'Don't worry, Pompez. This year you win the pennant.' And you know what? I won the pennant! I won the pennant!"
Should you be base enough to suggest that Pomp is laying it on a bit, he becomes indignant. "That's the truth," he says. "You know Mike Gonzalez [the former Cardinal coach]? You know why they say Gonzalez' team wins all the time in the Cuban League? Because he got a goat buried under second base!"
A few clubs are beginning to realize that the Latin Negro comes from a different world. The Giants, for instance, will put an American Negro on a farm team in the South, but they won't do that with a Latin Negro because they are "afraid that segregation might sour a foreign Negro on the U.S. as a whole." Oddly enough, Latin Negroes are starting to outnumber American Negroes in the minor leagues. Of the 17 Negroes currently in the Giant farm system, 10 are Latin. Of the 31 Negroes in the Cincinnati farm system, 17 are Latin.
In the minors and the majors the American Negro players "hang kind of close." On some clubs there are leaders, on others there are not. There is, for example, no leader on the Giants. "I think they're all leaders over there," says George Crowe of the Cardinals, laughing. "It's like an army with all generals." (Mays, the logical leader, goes his own way.) The main leaders are Bill Bruton on the Braves, Brooks Lawrence on the Reds and Crowe. A budding leader is Bill White of St. Louis. Negro players expect White, a onetime premedical student, to become a "big man" once he gets a couple more years experience in the league.
Crowe is the big man now. He's been around ("Why, he's from the state of New York," says one player in awe), he's smart, he's level-headed, he has a sense of responsibility and he feels a concern for youngsters coming up. If he were white he'd be tabbed as a coach or manager.
UNDER GEORGE'S WING
Crowe formerly played for Cincinnati, and he was the leader there. Center Fielder Vada Pinson told me that when he joined the Reds, Crowe "took me right under his wing. He came up to me and said, 'If there are any problems, you come to me. I'm your father, your big daddy up here.' He was serious." Later on, Pinson said, 'Something would come up about going somewhere, and he would say, 'You don't want to do that,' or, 'We're supposed to be in bed then.' He'd be around eavesdropping while another guy would be talking to me, and after we were through talking, he come up to me and say, 'What did you think of what he said?' And I'd say it was good or bad, and he'd tell me what he thought. He was the big daddy. When I see him now, I call him Dad. We look up to him."
Asked about what Pinson had said, Crowe said, "I like to see everybody keep their nose clean. And when you have fellows who are coming along who are new to this, I'm glad to give guidance. So naturally I introduced myself." Asked what sort of problems a youngster like Pinson would have, Crowe spread his hands, smiled and said, "Everybody has problems. Life itself is a problem." Crowe is likely to do much the same thing for youngsters on other clubs. "If I knew a kid coming up with the Braves," he said, "I'd say to Bruton, 'Look out for this kid. Show him the places to eat. Don't leave him stand in the hotel. Take him to the movies. Find out what he likes to do.' " Crowe has a sense of responsibility as a "race" man. If, for example, the players get an invitation to make a public appearance, he always tries to get a Negro player to attend. If none can, he goes himself.
With such a sense of oneness, it is no wonder that the Negro players have what might be called an informal code of behavior. For example:
•A Negro player does not "get the process"—ie, have his hair straightened. Any player who gets the process is ridiculed back into line. "That's for entertainers, not ballplayers."
•A Negro player does not criticize another Negro player in front of a white. "Whites talk about each other like dogs," says one. "We don't. Don't you ever ask me about a colored ballplayer. I may hate him, but that's none of your business."
•A Negro player does not mention a girl by name, not even in front of a third Negro. He will say, "You know that party I was out with." I first put this down to a sense of gallantry, but Mays corrected me. "Our circle's so small," he said, "the other guy listening may be going out with the girl, too."
•Negro players share with one another. "When you're on the road, you never worry," says a player. "If you need anything, so-and-so will give it to you. And there's no salary jealousy. The best-liked player is Mays. He makes $85,000 a year, and every man is happy to see him with it." Last season, many Negro players automatically headed for Mays's home (since sold) when they reached San Francisco. They had dinner, then helped themselves to records, shirts and whatever else Mays had received from admirers. "A lot of colored guys don't get that, so I give them to them," Mays says.
•Negro players do not fight each other. "You watch a fight," says one. "All the players will come out, and what we do is pick out one of us and run up and put it on. We're laughing and hugging, and the white guys are slugging each other. We just hug. We don't try to harm each other. We got to make a living. You hardly ever see two colored guys fighting. It happens, but you hardly ever see it. Watch Mays in a fight. He's circling around, circling around, pretending he's looking for someone. Shucks, he's not looking for anyone. Unless it's a guy to pull away."
This does not mean that Negroes do not play hard in a game, particularly against one another. "Negroes play harder against Negroes than against whites," says a Negro pitcher. "I'd rather anybody in the world get a hit off me than Mays or Aaron. If they hit, they tease me about it, and that doesn't go down well with me."
The only time a Negro will take it easy is on a barnstorming tour. Last fall I accompanied a Negro team playing a white team in Mexico, and before I joined the tour I expected the Negroes to go all out to beat the white team. But they didn't, and they admitted this. "That white team hustles all the time," a Negro player said. "We've laid down a hell of a lot. But not during the season. You know what would happen if we laid down during the season, don't you?" Another player said, "The whites seem to really want to beat us. They get ahead, they really pour it on. I know that's true because all the guys have talked about it. We know we've got a better team, even though we may take it a little easy, and when we've got a big crowd, we'll beat them."
As a matter of fact, they take it so easy barnstorming that they refused to allow Pinson, a youngster who doesn't know how to stop hustling, to make a trip. Pinson was told, "It's best you don't go. You wouldn't know how to play it. You wouldn't know how to slow down." Poor Pinson doesn't know how to slow down when he hits a homer. Once last year he sprinted all the way home even though he saw the ball clear the fence as he was rounding second. When he got back to the bench Frank Robinson, Cincinnati's Negro first baseman, said, "Listen, kid, you'd better just stick to singles and leave those long balls to us cats who can act them out."
As with any intimate group, the Negro major leaguers have their own private nicknames. A few of them are known to white players. Don Newcombe, for instance, is Tiger to white and Negro players alike, and Mays is called Buck, not Willie, by Giants of both races. "Anyone who knows me well calls me Buck," Mays says. Among the Negroes themselves, George Crowe is Old Folks, Willie Kirkland is Kingfish, Bennie Daniels is Candyman, Charlie Neal is Snake, Elston Howard is Steelie, Vada Pin-son and Frank Robinson are the T Boys (both own Thunderbirds), Jim Pendleton is Road, Gene Baker is The Fugitive, Bob Thurman is Cool Daddy and Monte Irvin is Muggs. Two other Negro players have names that are so racial (probably) in origin that the players keep them absolutely to themselves.
Charlie White, a catcher with Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, is called the King of the Mullion Men. White, who was up with the Braves briefly, is a great favorite among Negro players because of his humor. When Negro players meet, they'll often swap the latest Charlie White story or begin an outlandish phrase: "As Chazz White used to say." Pompez would not think of booking a barnstorming tour without White. "He's very helpful, in keeping the boys contented," Pomp says.
Slang is a rich field. The words mullion, hog-cutter, drinker and pimp apparently came from the Negro leagues. Drinker and pimp barely survive today. A pimp is a flashy dresser, and a drinker—so Jimmy Banks, a Negro Memphis Red Sox first baseman, told me—is "a fielder who can pick it clean. He catches everything smooth. He can 'drink' it." Banks also told me about some other words, but I have been unable to find them used in the majors. A choo-choo papa was a sharp ballplayer. An acrobat was an awkward fielder. A monty was an ugly ballplayer, and a foxy girl was a good-looking girl. Unfortunately, my research came to an abrupt end when I foolishly asked Banks if he had a nickname. "I'm a ballplayer, man," he said as he walked away. "I'm not gonna nickname myself. Man, you have to calm down!"
Mullion and hog-cutter are flexible words. At first, mullion meant an ugly woman, but now it can mean an ugly man "or even a child." The greeting, "What say, mullion?" is standard among Negro players. A hog-cutter is a player who makes a mistake. "Any mistake, that's a hog," Crowe explained. "An error. Throwing to the wrong bag. Going into the bag without sliding. That's when you cut a hog." But, as another player explained, it is possible to cut a hog off the field. "You cut a hog," he said, "by saying something that you have no business saying. You can cut the hog with anybody, but it's how we feel if you cut the hog or not. For example, forgetting where you are. You'll be with whites, and you'll forget, and you'll sound off about a colored fellow, 'that black so-and-so.' And they say, 'Oh, he's cut that pig again.' Not much you can do except try to pass over it—the hog's cut then. No one has to say anything. You know you cut it. You can cut the hog at a social gathering when you do something very embarrassing. A big hog is when you have a lot of people, men and women, and everyone stops talking at once, and there you are. You're cussing and saying the nastiest things. Well, you've done it again with a king-sized hog. Hog-cutting is filling the most embarrassing moment with the most embarrassing thing."
THE 57 VARIETIES
"Who are the hog-cutters?" I asked.
"A hog-cutter is everywhere," the player said, laughing. "He's more 01 less at large. How many of us did you say there were?"
"Then there are 57 hog-cutters,' he said, still laughing.
"Are there different kinds of hog-cutters?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Bruton and Monte Irvin were the quiet hog-cutters. We called Monte sneaky. We'd be talking in a group, and you'd look up and he'd be gone. You'd say, 'Well, he's gone to cut one of those pigs.' "
"How about Brooks Lawrence?"
"Diplomatic-type hog-cutter, the sneaking kind."
"Not a hog-cutter. Only one who isn't."
"Does Newcombe cut a hog?"
"Just a little pig-cutter, but he's learning."
"He cuts it—both ways."
"Not any more. He's quiet. But he can cut the hog before you find out the pig has been sliced."
Hog-cutter should not be confused with hot dog, another baseball term. A hot dog is a showboat, a player who calls attention to himself, either through his actions or his attitude. It is a white expression, though Negroes use it. While only Negroes are hog-cutters, anyone can be a hot dog, though Latin players have a sort of monopoly in the field. "You automatically assume any Latin is a hot dog until he proves himself otherwise," says a white player. Another white word is flaky. It means eccentric. Occasionally, Negroes and whites will share the use of an expression. One that is shared reflects poorly on mother love, and a few years ago, a Cub—a white, by the way—used it so freely that he caused a semantic crisis. National League President Warren Giles was so distraught over the player's use of the expression that he sent a memo to each club forbidding its use, particularly against umpires, under pain of a $500 fine. In his memo Giles noted that the expression had been recently introduced into baseball. A Negro player saw this and nudged a buddy, saying proudly, "That means we brought it." The players were faced with the considerable problem of what to use instead.
Negroes and whites debated the point. "What are you going to say if the umpire is one?" asked a player plaintively. Finally the Negroes decided upon two substitutes: "You're one of those things!" and "You're $500 worth!"
Race itself is responsible for much slang. Among the Negro players, whites are called, ofays (generally shortened to fays), gray boys, paddies, them people, those people, the other side, squares, triangles and blow-hair boys. Why triangle? "A triangle is a square in search of a corner," said a Negro player. Why blow-hair boy? "When the wind blows, your hair moves and mine doesn't."
Among themselves, Negro players refer to one another as scobes (derogatory), skokies (also derogatory), Indians and club members. The last is much in favor. "We'll get into a town and look around and not see many Negroes, and I might say, 'Hm, this looks like a poor place for club members,' " a Negro player said.
"How is St. Louis for club members?" I asked, expecting a negative reaction because of the city's southern touch.
"A good town for club members. Lot of club members there."
"That's a lousy town for club members. But that's a lousy town for anybody."
Other expressions used by Negroes to denote a Negro are Number Two and M Two. The latter is a corruption of the former. Why Number Two? "Well, we're not number one!" By using a sort of backward logic, Negroes are now starting to call whites Number Ones. A word used only by Negro players is road. It means another Negro player, usually but not necessarily on the same team. It is supposed to be short for road buddy, and it was in vogue while I was on the Mexican barnstorming tour. "Hey, road, what's doing?" was a common greeting. Road is of recent vintage. "I called a guy road," says a Negro player, "and he thought I said rogue and he got mad." Earl Robinson, a Dodger bonus player who was with St. Paul in the American Association last year, says that when the season began only Negroes on the Saints used road. Then it began to spread. "Once I was standing on second base after a pretty good double," he says, "and the second baseman on the other team said, 'Hey, road, where did you get all that power from?' "
According to Earl Robinson, Negro slang is freely minted in the minors. He and the other Negroes at St. Paul began calling one another berries. In short order, one player became young berry, another old berry and so on. Thus old berry might come into the clubhouse and shout, "Hey, young berry, where's thin berry?" Young berry would reply, "Don't know, old berry. Might be with fat berry." Other slang in use at St. Paul was three bells for .300. To hit the ball "full in the face" or "sit on it" was to hit the ball hard. In night games a Negro batter going for the long ball would say of the opposing pitcher, "I'm going to hit this guy in the night somewhere," or "I'm going the night with him." Earl Robinson is of the opinion that "most Caucasian ballplayers are not aware that these things are going on." (Jackie Robinson seemingly doesn't believe that they are going on. I saw Robinson at the conclusion of my research, and he disagreed with a number of things I said I had learned. When, for instance, I told him that two Negro players could have a conversation in front of a white and the white wouldn't know what they were talking about, he said, "I don't believe that.")
Negro players joke about race in veiled terms in front of whites. When the Giants fielded seven Negroes in one day, the Negro players on the opposing bench joked, "Look at that big cloud rolling toward us! It's got to rain today!" and "Look at those mullion men. Be more hog-cutting than you can shake a stick at. They can't do right!" In a situation like this, a Negro player says, "all the colored guys will be laughing, and the whites won't know anything about it. And we feel that's the way it should be."
If there are no whites around at all, the language will be even stronger. But let a white player make a racial remark to a Negro, and the Negro will fight. Early last year Cardinal Manager Solly Hemus, then still active as a player, was hit by a ball thrown by Bennie Daniels, a Negro pitcher on the Pirates. Hemus called Daniels a black bastard, and a fight started. Afterward Hemus apologized and explained that he had only been trying to steam up his team, then languishing in last place. From then on, whenever Hemus saw Daniels, he would go out of his way to praise Daniels' pitching. Daniels, I understand, would have none of it. "Thank you, little Faubus," he would say, walking on. "Hemus should have known better," says a Negro player. "Hell, a white guy can't say a thing like that. Now if I roomed with Daniels that's probably the first thing I'd call him when I woke up in the morning."
Negroes don't care if a white player avoids them. "I'm not up here to make friends," says Harry Simpson. "I'm here to play baseball. Any team I've been on, I've made friends. But maybe a guy doesn't want to be friends. Well, it's a free country, and that's his privilege." A number of Negro players say they generally get along better with white Southerners than Northerners. "The southern white knows he has to play with you," says Don Newcombe, "and because he is southern, he is going to try to keep trouble down. He's more cautious of what he has to say." Fans in the stands give no cause for complaint. "I can't honestly say that anyone has called me a name," Newcombe says. "Oh, they've called me a big bum, but that's an honest opinion, and the fan who yelled that may be a hell of a fan."
A peculiar thing about the Negro-white relationship off the field is that if the Negro offers the invitation (and this is not common), the white is likely to accept, but if the white offers the invitation the Negro is unlikely to accept. For example, Jim Brosnan, a white pitcher on Cincinnati, sits in the bullpen with Brooks Lawrence. They discuss race, progressive jazz (in which they have a mutual interest), religion—in short, any subject that happens to come up. Yet when Brosnan invited Lawrence to a party at his home in a Chicago suburb, Lawrence refused. "Brooks said he couldn't make it," Brosnan said. "He said, 'Don't bug me about it.' " Later I asked Lawrence why he had rejected Brosnan's invitation. "The basic reason," he said, "goes back long before baseball. It's our environment. If white people come bearing gifts you're leary. It's probably your subconscious, but you're wondering if the invitation is real. What's his reason? Why? You wonder, 'Why's he doing this? What's h'e want?' "
There are other factors which keep the Negro from intimate association with the white. One is women. "We're playing with fire with that," said a Negro player, "and we all know it." Players who have played with fire have been sent down. Tension is another factor. "You don't realize the problems we have," a Negro player said. "You can go anywhere, do anything, but we have terrific tensions. We feel good among our own people. What bothers me is when I, well, pay taxes for something like a school, and I can't go there." The player quoted here said frankly that he had "a chip on my shoulder this wide"—he held his hands about a foot apart—about the race problem. "What annoys me most is to see a Negro woman with a white man," he said.
At times he felt the race problem to be such an intolerable burden that he purposely avoided whites, even in his home town. "Sure I've had invitations to speak," he said, "but these people didn't know me before. Now that I'm a major league ballplayer they want me. But I won't go. I stay with my people. I go down to Pine Street and see my friends, my people. Some are poor, and some may drink, but they're my people and my friends. It's a funny thing, but in any Negro section I've ever been in, there's a Pine Street. Always a Pine Street. That's where I go when I'm home. You know, I really didn't know I was a Negro until I was in junior high school. Before, when someone had a birthday party, we'd have it in our home room, and everybody would know. But in junior high school I noticed that I didn't know about the birthday parties any more, and that at the school dances they were on one side and we were on the other."
Another Negro player said that he "found out what it was to be a Negro" when he was 8. "Each class was having a basketball team," he said, "and so I brought in 50¢ for uniform money. But the teacher said, 'Oh, we're not letting colored play this year.' I'll tell you, I wailed. There were two high schools in town, one mostly white and one mostly colored. I chose the colored one, and I played every sport I could." "How did you do against the whites?" I asked. "I wrecked them," he said.
THE NEGRO ADVANTAGE
I found this an interesting answer. Writing in 1943 on "The Supremacy of the Negro Athlete in White Athletic Competition," in The Psychoanalytic Review, Dr. Laynard Holloman of Provident Hospital in Chicago gave revenge, compensation and a desire to identify with the white race as the reasons for the Negro athlete's success. It is nonsense to attribute the success to anything physical. American Negroes are a mixture of Negro, Indian and white stock, principally British, and while they differ from whites in some respects—they are, for example, less heavily bearded—they have no physical characteristic that gives them an advantage over white athletic competitors.
Today this player has what might be called a conciliatory attitude toward whites, though he is wary on occasion. "I have the most interesting life in the world," he said. "Why? Just being a Negro. I know that when I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror I have a challenge. Where can I find the humor in it—that's what I try to do. It's so ridiculous you have to find the humor in it. If you didn't you'd go crazy."
On occasion, Negro and white players will attempt to bridge the gulf of race by kidding about it in almost bizarre fashion. "We sit around the clubhouse and joke about the Ku Klux Klan, which isn't a joke at all to a Negro," says a Negro player. "Things like that ease tension."
If Negro players have any complaints about the majors they are:
•Lack of advertising endorsements. "Negro players shave, too."
•Having their lockers all in a row in the clubhouse. "It seems that clubhouse attendants stress 'togetherness' too much. They keep us all together too much."
•Training in the segregated South. The Negro players realize the clubs have huge investments in their physical plants, but it galls them to suffer the indignities of segregation. Many refuse to bring their wives. "The first thing I thought of when I was traded," says a player, "was not the club I was going to, but the fact that they trained in Florida. I don't care for Florida." One player told me he planned to hold out this spring so he could "miss three weeks of Florida."
•The feeling that they have to be "better" than the white players to stay. "If two players are the same, and one is white and one is colored, and one has to go, nine out of 10 times the colored guy will be the guy." Comparative statistics for hitters bear this out. In 1958 the average Negro major leaguer drove in 46 runs, hit 11 homers and batted .282.
A side to this the Negro player doesn't always see is the outright discrimination against him as a player. American League clubs have generally been slower than National League clubs to take Negroes. (Of the 57 Negroes in the majors last year, 41 played in the National League, and surely the National League is the stronger for this.) "I haven't been told not to take Negroes," a scout for an American League club told me. "The only thing is, you want a good one. Know what I mean? There's still a little taint. Know what I mean?"
•Lower, much lower, bonuses. Earl Robinson got "in excess of $50,000" from the Dodgers, but he's a rarity. "I signed for $4,000," says a player, "and if I'd have been white, I could have signed for $30,000 or maybe $40,000. A lot of white ballplayers I played with in high school got far more than I did, and I was twice the ballplayer they were."
Even the fairest front offices admit the Negro hasn't got the big bonus. "If the kid were another Willie Mays, yes," says one farm supervisor. "But generally we would have to think twice about a big bonus. There's a limited number of places he can play, and so it's harder to develop him. Negroes can't play in the Southern Association or the Alabama-Florida League. If I went to make a working agreement with a club in either league, I would be told they can't take Negro players."
"Do minor league clubs that take Negroes have a quota?" I asked.
"Well, there's no strict quota, but you'll be told by a certain town, 'Don't bring in more than four. That's about all we can handle.' Or, 'Two is about the saturation point here.' Of course that's sometimes due to the fact that there may be only one Negro family in town that could board them."
SYMBOL OF ACHIEVEMENT
Away from baseball, Negro major leaguers have a higher standing in their own communities than white players do in theirs. The minimum major league salary is $7,500 a year, and only ½ of 1% of the U.S.'s 17 million Negroes make more than $5,000 a year. "The Negro ballplayers have become symbols of achievement, symbols of Negro participation in a white world," Professor Frazier says, "and with their high incomes and conspicuous consumption they are an important part of the bourgeoisie elite."
Negro ballplayers are much on the mind of the Negro in general, and at times they are regarded with awe, even though a big name will no longer "sell" a business. When Don Newcombe walked into a faculty cafeteria at Howard, everyone arose except for a professor of anthropology who didn't know who Newcombe was. (After he found out he still refused to stand up. Later he complained to Frazier, "Imagine professors standing up for a ballplayer!")
Frazier places sports, with baseball in the lead, as the No. 1 topic of conversation among Negroes, and in Black Bourgeoisie, his study of the Negro middle class, he reports: "Once the writer heard a Negro doctor who was prominent 'socially' say that he would rather lose a patient than have his favorite baseball team lose a game. This was an extreme expression of the relative value of professional work and recreation among the black bourgeoisie. It also is indicative of the value which many Negro professional men and women, including college professors, place upon sports.
"Except when they are talking within the narrow fields of the professions, their conversations are generally limited to sports—baseball and football. They follow religiously the scores of the various teams and the achievements of all the players. For hours they listen to the radio accounts of sports and watch baseball and football games on television."
White Sociologist Wilson Record of Sacramento State College says that when he was doing field research in Chicago several years ago Negroes who played the numbers game, an illegal lottery based on pari-mutuel returns at race tracks, would keep tabs on a special box The Chicago Daily Defender carried listing the batting averages of all Negro hitters. "From this," says Record, "they would get a number to play."
THE HOUSE OF SATAN
Unlike some Negro entertainers who show what Sociologist Philip Rieff of the University of California calls "the most dismal readiness to express hostility to the bulk of the Negro world below them," the ballplayers are generally "race" men. "The Negro players do accept responsibility as race men," Mal Goode says. "Fifteen of them are buying or already have bought life memberships in the NAACP. That's $500. Also many of them have made special contributions to the NAACP. When the NAACP was fighting in the Supreme Court, the NAACP would send telegrams asking players for money. I've only heard one [Negro] ballplayer make a derogatory remark. He said, 'Don't you think the NAACP stirs up trouble?' I said, 'Do me a favor. Never say anything like that again.' "
Frazier is not surprised at the ballplayers being race men. "A baseball player is attached to conventional worlds," he says. "An entertainer isn't." As he sees it, the entertainer dwells in "the house of Satan," so to speak, where anything goes and ties are broken in the process, but the baseball player doesn't. After all, says Frazier, "baseball is ah American sport with American respectability."