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  • Baseball Cinema Challenges the Hollywood BlacklistRobert Aldrich's Big Leaguer (1953)
  • Ron Briley (bio)

As the traditional national pastime, baseball played a significant role in the post–World War II consensus in which the only possible threat perceived to an expanding capitalist economy was the alien ideology of communism. The Little League pledge included fealty to God and country, while Ohio Republican US Senator John W. Bricker, a staunch anticommunist, enlisted Organized Baseball in the Cold War. Addressing the second Annual Conference of Minor League Executives in 1949, Bricker asserted, "While the marching hordes in China are spreading the doctrine of communism, officials of the national pastime are helping to make democracy work in this country by giving every youth a chance to carve out his own career."1 Later that same year, Jackie Robinson appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to refute the alleged statement by activist and entertainer Paul Robeson that black Americans would not serve in a war against the Soviet Union. Acknowledging that he was no expert on communism, Robinson told the committee that while there was still a long way to travel on the path to racial equality, black Americans were loyal citizens who did not need communists to speak for them. Robinson testified, "They'd do their best to help their country stay out of war; if unsuccessful, they'd do their best to help their country win the war—against Russia or any other enemy that threatened us."2 Baseball's anticommunist crusade was also endorsed by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick. Speaking before the Rotary Club of Columbus, Ohio on December 3, 1951, Frick insisted that baseball defined America. He observed, "If Germany had had baseball, World War II would have been prevented, and if Russia had a sports program like the Americans, with a chance to let off steam, there would be no danger of communism." Frick concluded that baseball was doing an outstanding job of instructing youth in the virtues of democracy, and the game would "remain a proud part of our ideal way of life."3

Baseball's anticommunist consensus, however, might be surprised to learn [End Page 57] that the sport played a small role in challenging the Hollywood blacklist of performers, writers, and directors who refused to cooperate with HUAC or were suspected of being members of or sympathetic to the Communist Party. Disenchanted with Hollywood support for the New Deal and America's Soviet ally during the Second World War, prominent members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, such as Walt Disney, invited HUAC to investigate the role of communists in the film industry. In response to the 1947 appearance of the Hollywood Ten before HUAC, Hollywood producers instituted an industry blacklist. The Hollywood Ten, led by screenwriters John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, refused to answer the questions posed by the committee, insisting that the political identification of American citizens was no business of the government. The Ten were cited for contempt of Congress for their refusal to cooperate with HUAC, and their convictions were upheld in the courts. Fearing possible boycotts by anticommunist organizations such as the American Legion, Hollywood producers and studios instituted a blacklist of industry employees whose political loyalties were suspect—although one could always clear his or her name by appearing before HUAC and identifying associates who expressed sympathy for communism or other left-wing causes. The public confessions set off a witch hunt in Hollywood that resulted in suspicion being cast upon such Hollywood liberals as Edward G. Robinson.4

In the early 1950s, Robinson, a film star in the 1930s and 1940s, was encountering difficulty finding work in Hollywood due to questions about his politics and generous support of numerous humanitarian and anti-fascist organizations. In 1953, however, MGM decided to cast Robinson in a low budget baseball film entitled Big Leaguer. Robinson was to portray New York Giants scout and former major league player Hans Lobert who was in charge of a tryout camp in Florida. The film was to be directed by Robert Aldrich, whose previous experience in the industry was limited to television. Although Aldrich was a...


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