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Rabbitbrush Rambler: Long view of baseball

Posted: Monday, Apr 15th, 2013

I greatly enjoyed Lance Hostetterís column on this page with his reminisce about playing baseball together in the town park. (His columns always interest me, by the way.)

At the ripe age of 85, I still am enjoying baseball on the sports pages, although this habit did not begin until a few years after I was four years old when I attended Ladiesí Day with my dad at Fenway Park. Since then, the game, and I, have seen many changes, some for the better and others for the worse.

A definite improvement in the game is that players and fans no longer must have the same color of skin or belong to an approved cultural group, as they did when I was growing up. Only in the late 1940s were minority players allowed to play on Major League Baseball teams.

The Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson played his first Major League Baseball game, a date remembered yesterday on Jackie Robinson Day. The change was not greeted happily by everyone, though.

Some of his team members initially protested, and some teams threatened to strike if they had to play against the Dodgers, but Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler announced that anyone who went on strike would be suspended, and the Dodgerís colorful manager, Leo Durocher, declared that Robinson would play no matter what color he was, even if he had ďzebra stripes.Ē Revenue from African Americansí ticket sales suddenly increased, too, so letís admit the change was not due entirely to enlightened altruism.

The son of Georgia sharecroppers, Robinson was an outstanding athlete in college sports, including track and football, and next he began playing in the Negro League. Before the Dodgers signed him up, the Red Sox tried to get him, but Bostonís mayor, a typical narrow-minded machine politician of his era, fought the idea.

Instead, No. 42 played in six World Series with the Dodgers, including the championship in 1955. He was on six All-star teams and was named a Most Valuable Player.

Soon after Robinson began with the Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians and other teams began to hire African-American players. Satchel Paige joined the Indians in 1948 while I was in college nearby, and, forsaking the Red Sox, I became an enthusiastic fan of the Indians, Bob Feller, and Satch.

Born in Alabama in 1906, more or less as far as anyone could determine, Paige had an unusual career. At about age 12, he was sent for five years to a reform school for truancy and petty theft, while he was growing to six feet and four inches tall and excelling in baseball. Afterward, he played in the Negro League for years and was hired by the Indians when he was already about 40 years old, playing with some team members who were young enough to be his sons.

We all loved Satch, a fantastic pitcher. He had a loose-jointed gait and a laidback demeanor that belied his skill as a ballplayer. He also had a gift for quotable one-liners that won him popularity with the press.

For instance, he once joked that there was no point in rushing things so he took his time winding up because the game couldnít start without him. But, in fact, Joe DiMaggio himself said that Satchel had the fastest pitch he ever had to face.

During his career in the MLB, Paige pitched 64 scoreless innings and 21 scoreless games in a row. In his last game when he retired from Kansas City, at age 60 more or less, he pitched three strikeless innings.

Like other sports, baseball has suffered in recent years because of unethical and criminal conduct of some players. But I remain loyal to the game, most of the time, to the Red Sox because thatís where I started.

After 59 years as a Colorado resident and 20 of those years with a team in Denver, maybe it is time for me to switch my allegiance to the Rockies, but there is no point in rushing things. After all, the game still canít start without me.

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