40 Years of Pride
Or Cardinals pitcher Edwin Jackson could pitch out of a bases loaded jam to keep his team in the game. Slugger Albrt Pujols may bash a tape-measure homerun in the bottom of the ninth, or Elvis Andrus will go deep into the hole to pick up a sure base hit and fire the ball to first base for the out. If any of these scenarios happen, no one will be surprised. We're used to seeing these stars excel on the field.
It is not news that these players are African-Americans and Latinos. But minority players were not always welcome on major league diamonds, and it's important to look back at the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1971 as a way to teach future generations about how far baseball—and society—has come.
This is the 40th Anniversary of the first all-minority line-up in the major leagues, the year the Pirates put nine non-caucasian men on the field in the starting line-up. Second baseman Dave Cash says Jackie Robinson was his hero growing up, and was honored to be one of the starting nine that broke through racial barriers and made history. Starting pitcher Dock Ellis was even selected to start for the 1971 National League All-Star team, facing off against Vida Blue, another African-American star pitcher. When Reggie Jackson of the Oakland A's crushed an Ellis pitch over the upper-deck at Detroit's Stadium, smashing into a transformer on top of the stadium's roof, more racial barriers fell. The legendary shot earned Jackson superstar status and helped propel him on to a Hall of Fame career.
It wasn't always easy for Jackson, who experienced racism in the minor leagues, playing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1967. Restaurants and hotels refused to serve him, but there was change happening. Jackson's manager was John McNamara, who supported Jackson and his minority teammates by leaving those establishments and driving for hours to find a place that would serve all the players. Jackson has talked about how important that was to have McNamara's support, a man that would go on to manage many years in the major leagues.
Also on that team were future major league managers Tony LaRussa and Rene Lachemann, white men who have helped advance the cause for minorities, both as players, managers and coaches.
There are sure to be some thrilling moments in this year's World Series. As we enjoy them, let's remember how the game helped to bring civil rights issues into the conscience of American society. Remember the 1971 season as a banner year of major league advancements.