December 18th, 2007

cass groovy

baseball's color line

Stumbled across this page on the history of mixed-race players, particularly Cubans, in American major-league baseball. (Did you know that Babe Ruth's features led many to suspect that he had some black ancestry, and even accuse him of it? I didn't.) Particularly of note: Roberto (Bobby) "Tarzan" Estallella, who played nine seasons between 1935 and 1949 and came in 26th for most valuable player in 1945. Estallella was visibly of mixed race, but he was white on paper, and managed to play all over the country. The site author thinks that Estallella's career paved the way for Jackie Robinson's shattering of the color line, by giving Branch Rickey the idea that it could be done. There were some hiccups along the way, though. My favorite:

Another Cuban baseball legend is the story of Branch Rickey and black Cuban player, Silvio García. If we are to believe many Cuban stories of the times, Branch Rickey started to seriously consider that the best strategy to break the color barrier would be by bringing a black Cuban player to the major leagues. His initial choice was a very good Cuban shortstop, Silvio García. According to Edel Casas, the noted Cuban baseball historian, Rickey met with García in Havana in 1945 to explore the possibility of bringing Garcia to the Dodgers. As he would later do with Robinson, Rickey interviewed García and asked him: "What would you do if a white American slapped your face?" García's response was succint and sincere. "I kill him," he answered. Needless to say, García was never a choice after that.