- Purchase/rental options available:
NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 168-170
[Access article in PDF]
Christopher Threston. The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2003. 186 pp. Paper, $24.95.
Following the surprising pennant of the 1950 Whiz Kids, the Philadelphia Phillies reverted to being the doormat of the National League for most of the 1950s and 1960s. An influential factor in the team's poor performance was the reluctance of the Phillies to sign a black player. In fact, the Phillies were the last National League club to integrate. In 1957 the Phillies acquired "Chico" Fernandez from the Dodgers and John Irvin Kennedy from the Negro Leagues. Although Fernandez considered himself black, the designation of the first African American to play for the Phillies is usually bestowed on Kennedy, who appeared in only 5 games with the Philadelphia club.
Christopher Threston, who began this study while doing graduate work in history at Rutgers University, chronicles in a crisp narrative style the evolution of blacks and baseball in Philadelphia. Threston asserts as his thesis that "Philadelphia's reputed racial intolerance resulted not from segregation but from integration. As professional baseball began to move toward integration, more resistance than acceptance arose among fans and owners" (p.4). But the reader may want more explanation from Threston as to why the City of Brotherly [End Page 168] Love produced such a history of segregation and intolerance. The larger historical and cultural context for black baseball in Philadelphia could use more development.
Threston commences his story with the Philadelphia Pythians of the 1860s, which comprised numerous black Union veterans and was owned by Octavius V. Catto, who was reportedly murdered for attempting to register black voters. The Pythians were eventually replaced by the Philadelphia Giants as baseball became even more racially segregated during the Jim Crow days of the 1880s and 1890s. After the Giants disbanded in 1911, they were replaced by the Hillsdale club, which competed effectively in Rube Foster's Negro League during the 1920s and 1930s. When the Hillsdale team failed following the 1932 season, Ed Bolden, owner of thePhiladelphia Tribune, created the Philadelphia Stars, who were a Negro League fixture until 1952 when baseball integration undermined black baseball ownership, a topic well investigated by Threston.
As the Negro Leagues collapsed, Major League baseball in Philadelphia remained segregated. Along with many baseball scholars, Threston remains skeptical of Bill Veeck's contention that during World War II, the maverick entrepreneur planned to purchase the Phillies and break baseball's color line. The intolerance of the Phillies and many Philadelphia fans was exhibited by support for Phillies manager Ben Chapman's racial taunting of Jackie Robinson. With attendance in decline the Philadelphia Athletics challenged racial segregation in the city by calling pitcher Bob Trice to the parent club at the end of the 1953 season. Trice enjoyed only moderate success with the Athletics, and the bold move of adding the black pitcher to the roster failed to save the Philadelphia Athletics franchise; the Mack family sold the team to businessman Arnold Johnson, who transferred the club to Kansas City.
Meanwhile, the Phillies were reluctant to embrace integration. Following the introduction of Fernandez and Kennedy in 1957, the team appeared to prefer black players from the Caribbean, such as Pancho Herrera, Valmy Thomas, and Tony Gonzalez. Although Wes Covington enjoyed a couple of good seasons in the early 1960s, the Phillies' first black star was Dick Allen.
Threston devotes an entire chapter to Allen's turbulent career in Philadelphia from 1963 to 1969, when he was traded to St. Louis. The author notes that the Phillies did little to support Allen during a difficult 1963 Minor League season in Little Rock, Arkansas. Also, the club was unprepared for the more aggressive style of Allen, who would not tolerate racial slights, such as the taunting by teammate Frank Thomas, or the insistence of reporters that they be allowed to call him "Richie" rather than Dick Allen. Threston blames both Phillies management and Allen for the impasse that developed as fans...