My brother was always the jock in the family.
The thing is, he was good at it, particularly baseball and basketball.
I had other interests as a young kid and didn’t begin to appreciate sports until I was a teenager. By then it was too late to become much more than a spectator.
Years before I ever actually went to a baseball game I knew I was a Dodger fan. Our left-wing family always considered the Dodgers the team of the proletariat, the working class team.
That was because of Jackie Robinson. Today is the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in Major League Baseball.
The fact is that I don’t follow sports like I used to. I was offered seats to the World Champion (did I just write that?) Cubs’ opening home game at Wrigley this week and I turned them down.
And the Dodgers were playing the Cubs.
Jackie Robinson came to the Major Leagues a year before I was born.
I turn 70 next year and I have decided that it is just too damn cold to watch baseball in Chicago in April.
Of course, it turned out that it was nearly 70 degrees on opening day. But, who knew that would happen?
These days I tend to tune in about the time professional and college teams get into their respective tournaments and playoffs.
I remain interested and impressed by the great practitioners of the games. And by the politics of sports.
Like when Colin Kaepernick stood up by kneeling down and prompted a movement among young athletes.
Seventy years ago Jackie Robinson stood at the intersection of incredible athletic skill and a social movement for justice and against racism.
Standing with him at that intersection was a little-remembered sportswriter for the Communist Party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker, named Lester Rodney.
No main stream sportswriter would talk about integrating the Major Leagues.
My folks, who knew nothing about sports and cared less, knew about Jackie Robinson because of Lester Rodney.
When Lester Rodney died in 2009, today’s version of the radical political sportswriter, Dave Zirin, wrote:
If you have never heard of Lester Rodney, there is a very simple reason why: the newspaper he worked at from 1936-1958 was the Daily Worker, the party press of the U.S. Communist Party. Lester used his paper to launch the first campaign to end the color line in Major League Baseball. I spoke to Lester about this in 2004 and he said to me, “It’s amazing. You go back and you read the great newspapers in the thirties, you’ll find no editorials saying, ‘What’s going on here? This is America, land of the free and people with the wrong pigmentation of skin can’t play baseball?’ Nothing like that. No challenges to the league, to the commissioner, no talking about Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, who were obviously of superstar caliber. So it was this tremendous vacuum waiting.”
The campaign was integrated into the Party’s anti-racist work of the 1930s: “I spoke to the leaders of the YCL [the Young Communist League]. We talked about circulating the paper [at ballparks]. It just evolved as we talked about the color line and some kids in the YCL suggested, ‘Why don’t we go to the ballparks-to Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds-with petitions?’ We wound up with at least a million and a half signatures that we delivered straight to the desk of [baseball commissioner] Judge Landis.”
I will see you at the ballpark.
But not until June.