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"That Sickening Red Tinge"
July 12, 2004 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Press Box Red For 50 years, Lester Rodney was a forgotten footnote in perhaps the most controversial American sports story of the 20th century: Jackie Robinson and the breaking of baseball's color barrier. Now, the 93-year-old Rodney is getting his due. In the decade before Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rodney was the sports editor of the Daily Worker, a newspaper (the FBI files are here on .pdf) better known as the house organ of the American Communist Party. With strident editorials and feature stories about what he dubbed "The Crime of the Big Leagues," Rodney was an early, often lonely voice in the struggle to end segregation in baseball. But Rodney's contribution was never acknowledged, because of that "sickening Red tinge". Many baseball historians were staunchly anti-communist, and didn't want to acknowledge the contributions of the Communist Party. So Rodney's role (.pdf file) was left out of the official story. With the publication of his biography, Rodney's place in baseball's epochal story has introduced him to a new generation of admirers. "I wanted that ban to end because it was so unfair; I saw the tragedy of these great black ballplayers, like the catcher Josh Gibson, who didn't get a chance to play. It's unimaginable today, but look at Barry Bonds: Imagine if he had been born earlier and been unable to play." (login details for LATimes story in the main link: sparklebottom/sparklebottom)
posted by matteo (35 comments total)

 
LA-area baseball-loving MeFites could do worse, on Sunday, than to go meet Lester Rodney -- he'll speak at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena. Admission is free.
posted by matteo at 5:14 AM on July 12, 2004


Wow, great info, thanks. As a baseball fan who's gone to visit Jackie Robinson's statue in Montreal several times I'm a little ashamed I don't know more about this particular chapter of baseball history.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:40 AM on July 12, 2004


SC: Maybe because the guy didn't really have all that much impact, and now someone is hyping a book.
posted by mischief at 6:59 AM on July 12, 2004


Thanks, matteo. That Red Tinge page is great.
posted by subgenius at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2004



Another ((Daily Worker)) reader, though he never admitted it, was baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. (In Rodney's words, "a stone racist.") He wrote open letters to Landis, challenging him to integrate baseball. Rodney wrangled complimentary quotes about great Negro League players from Joe DiMaggio and from one-time St. Louis Cardinals Gas House stars Leo Durocher and Dizzy Dean. (Dean, a white Southerner, participated in several black vs. white "barnstorming" tours with his Negro League counterpart Satchel Paige.)
...
In 1937 ((Rodney)) walked into the New York Yankees clubhouse and saw players reading the Daily Worker. "If Colonel Ruppert (the Yankees owner) had walked in then, he would have had a heart attack." One would love to see George Steinbrenner's reaction.


__________

In essence, the Worker's campaign to desegregate baseball posited three arguments. First, blacks had proven their worthiness to participate in American professional sports through their success in the recently completed Summer Olympics in Berlin. Adolf Hitler's snubbing of Jesse Owens, the black track star who had won four gold medals, provided the CP a clarion call for their campaign against discrimination in sports in general and baseball in particular. Secondly, the CP staunchly opposed racism, whether perpetuated by Nazi Germany or the United States. "There is not much difference between the Hitler who, like the coward he is, runs away before he will shake Jesse Owens' hand and the American coward, who won't give the same Negro equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunities," the Worker editorialized. And thirdly, the newspaper's sportswriters argued that the addition of blacks would improve the level of competition in the big leagues. In short, discrimination did not merely prohibit blacks from organized baseball but also detracted from the overall quality of play. Worker sportswriters frequently denigrated the caliber of play in the major leagues while praising the talents of Negro League stars. The solution was obviouslet blacks play in the majors.
posted by matteo at 7:25 AM on July 12, 2004


Dean, a white Southerner, participated in several black vs. white "barnstorming" tours with his Negro League counterpart Satchel Paige

I believe Dean's best quote about Paige was "If me and Satch was on the same team we'd have the pennant wone by July and could spend the rest of the season fishing."

Interesting story.
posted by jonmc at 7:35 AM on July 12, 2004


jonmc, I think it goes... "If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we'd cinch the pennant by July 4 and go fishing until World Series time" Great quote, btw!

nice post, matteo.
posted by shoepal at 7:48 AM on July 12, 2004


Let's imagine a scale. On one side of the scale, you have American racial segregation in the 1930s. On the other side, you have the Communist Party-sponsored mass murders of the 1930s, which included many millions of people of color and ethnic minorities. Do these balance out in any way? Should we be valorizing the Daily Worker and this unprepentant dope Lester Rodney for seeing the mote of racial segregation in America's eye, when it could not see the mountain of murdered bodies in its own? The "Red Tinge" page linked to in this post actually has the nerve to maintain that the Daily Worker was financed by the "nickles and dimes" of working people, when in fact, as the Soviet archives prove, it was financed by the Kremlin, along with the rest of the American CP to the tune of millions of dollars a year. The Daily Worker didn't give a rat's ass about African-Americans and baseball.
posted by Faze at 8:17 AM on July 12, 2004


Faze, to a degree I agree with you on Communism in general, that historically it was murderous disaster, but that's kinda beside the point of this post.

Many American communists were sincere in their beliefs that their ideology would solve the worlds problems. I believe they were deluded, but that's again beside the point. Rank and file American leftists of that era were for the most part sincere in their anti-racist beliefs.

And I'd rank segregation and the legacy of slavery from which it sprang as more than a "mote" thank you very much.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 AM on July 12, 2004


" The Red Tinge page linked to in this post actually has the nerve to maintain that the Daily Worker was financed by the nickles..."

no, it doesn't really. the story simply quotes what the newspaper said about its funding, it is made clear in the link.


MetaFilter -- to a degree I agree with you on Communism in general
;)

posted by matteo at 8:26 AM on July 12, 2004


I agree with you on Communism in general, that historically it was murderous disaster, but that's kinda beside the point of this post -- jonmc

I don't think it's beside the point. I think its fundamental. Why should this guy get a free pass to endorse the policies of Joseph Stalin, just because he also opposed racial segregation in professional baseball?
posted by Faze at 8:40 AM on July 12, 2004


I don't think it's beside the point. I think its fundamental. Why should this guy get a free pass to endorse the policies of Joseph Stalin, just because he also opposed racial segregation in professional baseball?

Shall we lock him up now then?
posted by Space Coyote at 9:21 AM on July 12, 2004


"sincere in their belief"

As if this counts for something?
posted by techgnollogic at 9:24 AM on July 12, 2004



As if this counts for something?


Obviously, we know they were all wispering in Stalin's ear.

The corpse of this witchhunt is rather cold, stop digging it up.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2004


This one aspect of his life overrides all others? I wouldn't agree....

Have you ever visited the slave quarters at Monticello?
posted by crank at 9:41 AM on July 12, 2004


Shall we lock him up now then?
No, but don't make a hero out of him. Read this article in the N.Y. Observer by Ron Rosenbaum. It addresses a very similar situation involving Charles Lindbergh. Does the fact that Lindbergh endorsed Hitler and made anti-semitic speeches mean he should be expunged from the pantheon of American heroes? I say, yeah. Expunge him. Even though he was a brave flier and a pioneer environmentalist, it doesn't make up for the fact that he was an apologist for Nazism. Same goes for this commie. Throw him in the dustbin of history.
posted by Faze at 9:45 AM on July 12, 2004


Nah, we don't purge our history of the contributions or the existence of the ideologically out of favor. That's Communists you're thinking of. Only they do that. Really, get with it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:46 AM on July 12, 2004


Damn, should have previewed. What was intended as sarcasm now appears to be a straightforward rejoinder. Just goes to show there's no opinion so extreme that somebody won't hold it in all sincerity.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:49 AM on July 12, 2004


crank -- There's a big difference between Jefferson, who was born and raised in a society that took slavery for granted, and someone who is advocating the creation of a whole NEW category of slaves. Jefferson is guilty of inertia, and accepting a social condition he was born into. That is simple moral laziness, and something we are all guilty of (every second of our lives that we do not devote feeding and clothing the poor, for instance). Jefferson did not hop up and down and actively promote some radically new evil (unless, of course, you supported the British crown, in which case he did promote a new evil, indeed).

George_Spiggott -- Mass murder is always "ideologically out of favor."
posted by Faze at 9:56 AM on July 12, 2004


Faze, just because one set of bad guys were in charge at the time doesn't give them a free pass either.

And no, I'd vote against the re-writing of history and disappearing of people too. You can very well say "this is a guy who did something important, and also had some incorrect ideas." Honestly, history isn't about worshiping the past.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2004


Who did he murder? I missed that. And if he did murder someone, we must therefore disappear him from history?

I don't know what country you live in, but in this one it's legal to espouse any opinion that you want. There is also no basis in any law or social contract for purging anyone from any history; and it benefits no one to do so. What a bizarre Orwellian universe you live in. So he espoused a belief that one of history's greatest murderers also espoused, and for that you feel he should be removed from the history of baseball? There's another major mass murderer who violently opposed communism. By your logic we must therefore also purge anyone who opposes Communism, right? The colonization of America involved a genocide that was proportionately greater, often every bit as deliberate, if not as systematic, as what Stalin did. Would you purge everyone involved and everyone felt the colonization of this country was a good thing from our histories? The history books in this country would be mighty thin.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:26 AM on July 12, 2004


SparkleBottom?
posted by dejah420 at 10:59 AM on July 12, 2004


I wouldn't disappear him from history. I would put him on the cover of every history book, as an example of the kind of dingbat who seemed to be sincere and okay at the time, but in fact, turned out to be an apologist for mass murder. You see, the Daily Worker wasn't simply a left-wing newspaper, (I should know, I subscribed for 6 years), but a non-stop lie machine on a scale that nothing outside a totalitarian society could ever match -- and I include the annual reports of every major corporation in America.
posted by Faze at 11:03 AM on July 12, 2004


How did "expunging" someone from the "pantheon of American Heroes" get reconstrued as "purging them from history" anyway?

You guys act like Faze's criticism of Rodney's politics is some kind of threat to Rodney's First Amendment rights 50 years ago. Get a grip. Nobody's advocating disappearing anybody. Faze specifically said we shouldn't lock him up - just don't make a hero out of him.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:26 AM on July 12, 2004


The colonization of America involved a genocide that was proportionately greater, often every bit as deliberate, if not as systematic, as what Stalin did.

Not on topic, but there are about 2 million American Indians alive now, and 1,152,950 aboriginal people in the region that would become North America, as estimated by James Mooney. If those figures are correct, there are more Americans alive today than there were 1492.

There were wars, certainly, but American Indian populations suffered most from European diseases like smallpox, influenza, measles, bubonic plague, scarlet fever, mumps, and typhoid. That was not deliberate, nor was it anything resembling "proportionally greater" than the Stalin purges, nor was it conducted by a totalitarian regime, nor was it systematic extermination.

To suggest that a relationship can be drawn between the two is specious and irresponsible at best.
posted by hama7 at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2004


So, hama7, if in a few hundred years the jewish population bounces back, will referring to the holocaust be 'specious and irresponsible'?

Right.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:42 PM on July 12, 2004


Uh, if you lie about it then yeah, probably.
posted by techgnollogic at 1:10 PM on July 12, 2004


... and it's proven that we can't even have a fucking conversation about baseball without a few dicks ruining it by dragging their political horseshit into it. Now we know who's fault it is that MeFi is too political.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:44 PM on July 12, 2004


Right, the FPP doesn't even mention polit-oh wait, try again.
posted by techgnollogic at 2:46 PM on July 12, 2004


haha, sure. One-note cranks are so much fun.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:07 PM on July 12, 2004


"American Indian populations suffered most from European diseases like smallpox, influenza, measles, bubonic plague, scarlet fever, mumps, and typhoid. That was not deliberate, nor was it anything resembling "proportionally greater" than the Stalin purges, nor was it conducted by a totalitarian regime, nor was it systematic extermination."

Hama7 - that is a half truth : not for the body count. For that, you're mostly correct. But to ignore the fact that - on the island of Hispaniola, where the Spanish conquest of the new World began, Columbus and his sons forced those Indians who hadn't yet died of epidemic disease to pan for gold and chopped off the hand and feet of those who did not meet the decreed quota...... to ignore that fact along with many other facts almost as damning is to promote another sort of historical distortion, in the form of the claim that the Europeans came to the New World as benevolent or neutral parties.

They did not.
posted by troutfishing at 8:12 PM on July 12, 2004


the FPP doesn't even mention polit-oh wait, try again.

no, I ain't waiting. please underline the political sentences in my FPP. I'm curious. say what you want about its quality (I frankly don't care about your opinion), but the wording is as neutral as they come.

you're free to drag your politics everywhere you want, God knows it's the only thing you do around here. just don't blame others for it.
posted by matteo at 1:11 AM on July 13, 2004


Not political? You say he was overlooked by historians because he wrote for a Communist newspaper! The title of this thread is "That Sickening Red Tinge." Now you and Space Coyote are claiming that this was meant to be just "a fucking conversation about baseball"? Say what?

I wasn't even criticizing you for the wording of the FPP - but I can't see how it doesn't rely on the political aspects of the story. I never said it was grossly partisan, though I hope you'll acknowledge that the FPP certainly comes down on Rodney's side, as you seem to consider his treatment by anti-communist baseball historians an injustice. Even if I disagree with you there, I don't think there's a problem with the FPP. I just think it's ridiculous for Space Coyote - and now you, apparently - to act like a bunch of anti-commie assholes are ruining a little sports chat. If you didn't want people to discuss Rodney's connections to communism and his ostracization or exlusion from "baseball history" then maybe you should have thought of that before you posted a thread about them. But you say in the post that he was excluded by anti-communists, and that finally he's "getting his due" and being introduced to a "new generation of admirers." Were we just supposed to swallow that whole and stand up and cheer? Sorry for having an opinion, too.
posted by techgnollogic at 5:17 AM on July 13, 2004


as you seem to consider his treatment by anti-communist baseball historians an injustice

yes, I don't think that hiding the fact that he was right about segregation is very cool.
deal with it, the commies you hate so much were right about segregation when your Bible-thumping Confederates (they're all Republicans now, well those who are still alive) were all in favor of it, inside and outside baseball parks. not my fault.

if you didn't want people to discuss Rodney's connections to communism and his ostracization

no, discuss it all you want. just don't put words in my mouth

The title of this thread is "That Sickening Red Tinge."
a quote. not my words. it's a quote that very clearly explains why we know all about Rodney's work 50 years late. because saying thast communists were right about something was unthinkable in 1940's America. it still is, for some MeFi users, at least
posted by matteo at 6:00 PM on July 13, 2004


How is it unthinkable? Stop fabricating a controversy. No one here is contending that Rodney wasn't right about desegregating baseball, and no one is contending that it's wrong to admit a Communist can be right about something. Anybody can be right about something. It doesn't mean you deserve legions of adoring fans.

What's at issue is you claim that he was wrongly excluded from baseball history and did not receive his due acclaim for 50 years. Some people disagree. If I were you, I'd be careful about accusing people of dragging their politics around just because they happen to get tangled up with yours.
posted by techgnollogic at 7:07 PM on July 13, 2004


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