Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The complications of history and honor

Joe Posnanski on Monday posted this piece about Eddie Robinson, the sole surviving player from the last Cleveland Indians team to win the World Series. He's 96, and as Posnanski notes, is the one remaining connection to the 1948 champs -- to Bob Feller and Larry Doby and Bob Lemon and Lou Boudreau and Satchel Paige and Joe Gordon (which is just to name the Hall of Famers on that team).

And today's Indians organization is, at least so far, ignoring him. They had a couple of players from their 1990s World Series clubs throw out first pitches (Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga).

The speculation is that Robinson is sidelined because when the Indians started introducing black players to its roster in 1947 -- Doby, remember, was the first black in the American League, arriving a few months after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers -- Robinson, a Texan, made it obvious that he was against it.

I find the stories of baseball's segregation and integration a fascinating topic -- in no small part because it is a reflection of the larger society. Eddie Robinson was of what we like to call "The Greatest Generation." He spent three years in the Navy during World War II; we fought that war  in Europe against a racist ideology and fought that war in Asia while spewing our own racial invective. And then the soldiers and sailors came home and wrestled with the race question some more.

Eddie Robinson played for seven teams in his 13 years in the American League (missing only the Red Sox). He stayed in baseball for decades in a variety of roles -- scout, coach, farm director, general manager (Texas Rangers 1977-1981). He had a scouting role, according to this SABR biography, with the two Twins World Series champs.

I don't doubt that Eddie Robinson was uncomfortable in 1947 with the idea of being the teammate of a black man, and I don't doubt that he made his opinion known. I do doubt that he could have survived in the game as long as he did without evolving on the topic. Maybe he didn't evolve as far as I would like, but ... who among us is perfect?

Robinson may not be a Cleveland legend, but he is a link -- the link -- to a storied team. If Cub fans can cheer for a questionable personality such as Aroldis Chapman in this series, Cleveland and its fans can afford to embrace Eddie Robinson.

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