FROM BEYOND BASEBALL'S COLOR BARRIER


EXCERPT: THE PITTSBURGH COURIER SURVEY

In 1939, the Courier ran a fascinating series examining the sentiments of Major League Baseball players regarding the possible integration of their sport. The Courier interviewed prominent players, managers and coaches of the eight National League teams and published their findings along with player remarks over a two month stretch in the summer and fall of 1939. It is perhaps the most extensive look at the opinions of the baseball world at that time when it came to integration. The paper promoted the series as “The most exclusive, startling and revealing expose of the Major League players and managers themselves, ever written,” and The Courier was right.


To a man, everyone interviewed believed that the stars of the Negro Leagues were good enough to play in the Majors and many commented that they would have no issue if they did. This included the managers that were interviewed as well.

The project was spearheaded by legendary writer Wendell Smith, who would recommend Jackie Robinson to Branch Rickey as the best candidate to integrate the Major Leagues less than a decade later. Fittingly, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team featured and manager Leo Durocher spoke with the most conviction of those surveyed. Pictures ran on the page of all seven of the Dodgers who were interviewed with Durocher scoring the largest photo and his own headline. The simple headline above the grainy photo read, “’I’ve seen a million’—Leo Durocher” and was taken from the first paragraph of his interview. In full, the quote read, “I’ve seen plenty of colored boys who could make the grade in the majors. Hell, I’ve seen a million!”

Durocher continued,

I’ve played against some colored boys out on the coast who could play in any big league that ever existed. [Satchel] Paige, [Bill] Perkins, [Mule] Suttles and [Josh] Gibson are good enough to be in the majors right now. All four of them are great players. There are plenty of colored players who should be in the big leagues right now. However, that decision is not up to the managers. Personally, I have a liberal attitude toward the Negro ballplayer. I certainly would use a Negro ballplayer if the bosses said it was all right.

Durocher’s strong statement was not only echoed by the players he managed on the Dodgers but were repeated weekly throughout the entirety of the series. Dolph Camilli, the popular star who would go on to win the 1941 National League MVP, was equally complimentary, especially when it came to Satchel Paige. Camilli said, “I played against Satchel Paige out on the coast and I think he’s as good as any pitcher in the majors. He threw the fastest ball I ever looked at.” Camilli was someone who batted against eight different Hall of Fame pitchers, including Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean, whose fastball was said to approach 100 MPH.