Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. A half-century ago. While America has made progress on the race issue since then, racial turmoil remains. But a major development on the racial front also took place a half-century before King’s assassination.
In 1918 the Cuban Stars from Havana, an all-black baseball team, toured the United States and won 30 of 32 games against semi-pro and minor-league squads. This was a time of segregation in the game and almost 30 years before the color barrier was broken.
The biggest star in baseball was a young phenomenon with the Boston Red Sox who posted a 13-7 record as a pitcher and also walloped a league-leading 11 home runs. His name was Babe Ruth.
After leading his Red Sox to another World Series championship, he was approached by the owner of a minor-league team to play an exhibition game against those same Cubans. He said yes. The Cubans won the game 5-1, the loser’s only run a mammoth homer by Mr. Ruth.
Two years later he was with the New York Yankees and when the 1920 season was over he took part in barnstorming games against then-called Negro League teams before going off to Cuba himself to play more games against Latino and black players.
Says baseball historian Bill Jenkinson: “The message was clear. If the sports’ transcendent figure played without reservation against black ballplayers, why shouldn’t everyone else?”
My second in the series of Babe Ruth Legacy Interviews is posted today at www.BabeRuthLegacy.com with Jenkinson, who has spent over 30 years studying baseball and Ruth. He contends Ruth never became a manager after his playing days were done because he would have hired black ballplayers.
It’s worth a listen. You can also read about his research in BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy, now available at Amazon.