What's in a Name?
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
On December 16th, 2020, the commissioner of Major League Baseball announced that the Negro Leagues would be recognized with “major league” status. Commissioner Rob Manfred stated, “All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations, and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”
Thanks, Bob. But please allow me to unpack your shit for a minute.
Call me a cynic, but the phrase “against a backdrop of injustice” sticks in my Pittsburgh Crawfords a little bit. It makes the injustice seem like scenery in a high school theatre production or the façade of a saloon on a movie studio. It sounds like the injustice was just there on its own. As if people were minding their own business and playing their roles in front of the green screen.
The people were the injustice, Bob. Particularly, the people of Major League Baseball invented and executed the injustice. A color line in baseball didn’t exist as a matter of natural law or innocent happenstance. The color line existed in baseball because racist assholes like Cap Anson and Kennesaw Landis drew the motherfucker. It persisted because hundreds and hundreds of cowards refused to cross the line for fear of retaliation within the league or, heaven forbid, losing out on ticket sales to racist white patrons. That’s not a backdrop, Bob; that’s people committing injustice because they were racist, cowardly, greedy, or most likely, a disgusting combination of all three.
So Bob, as an African American, I am decidedly not honored to find out that Major League Baseball has officially come to an obvious conclusion a century late and billions of dollars short. Black folks already knew Negro Leaguers could hang with the white boys because they whooped their asses barnstorming 80 years ago, Bob. On behalf of people of color, I guess I can welcome Major League Baseball to planet Earth. But we know you just made this announcement so you could sell some damned Pittsburgh Crawfords jerseys. We know you, Bob. The only color you see is green.
Against this backdrop of Rob Manfred exhibiting tone-deafness, I named my dynasty baseball franchises after teams that Kennesaw Mountain “son of a traitor” Landis expressly excluded. I want people to remember Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Martin DiHigo, and Cool Papa Bell, but I also want people to remember Ahmad Arbury, George Floyd, and Tamir Rice. People can ignore the news and pour themselves into their hobbies. I want folks to face “the backdrop of injustice” every time they check their fantasy teams and notice that the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Hilldale Athletic Club, and Cienfuegos Elephantes are pretty damned good baseball organizations.