Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-09-26 15:45
by Alex Belth

My blogging pal, and fellow New Yorker, Steve Keane, sole owner and proprietor of The Eddie Kranepool Society, recently took exception with an article written by Daily News columnist Filip Bondy. The article in question was a puff piece about one of Bondy's beloved "Bleacher Creatures." It is a trivial little column, and I'm certain that this isn't the first time the Yankee-friendly Bondy has chapped Keane's---or any other self-respecting Met fan's---behind:

I have never hide [sic] my hatred for Filip Bondy of the NY Daily News. I've always felt that Bondy has had a vendetta against the Mets. Back in the late 80's he wrote a column calling Mets management racist for not having any African-American players on the team. This is the same guy who writes about his love for the NY Yankees. The same NY Yankees who would have been the last team in baseball to become interrogated [sic] if it were not for the Boston Red Sox.

While I can't disagree with Keane's assessment of Bondy, I do want to offer some clarification regarding the Yankees race record. They were one of the last teams to integrate, but when they finally promoted Ellie Howard to the majors in 1955, there were still three teams that remained all-white: the Phillies, Tigers and of course, the Red Sox.

The Yankees' racist management, and the casual bigotry of Casey Stengel and some of the players is indeed a shameful mark on the team’s history. Interestingly, they initially had been one of the first clubs to sign black players. In 1949, GM George Weiss recruited Artie Wilson, Frank Austin, and Luis Angel Martinez; next, they bought the contracts of Bob Thurman and Taborn from the Kansas City Monarchs. But none of these players came close to making the big club, who by then, were in the process of reeling off five consecutive championships.

According to Jules Tygiel’s scholarly history of integration, “Baseball’s Great Experiment:”

The Yankees had…followed the same begrudging path toward integration as the majority of the other clubs. In the early stages of the great experiment, they had exceeded the efforts of most clubs. In the post-1951 era, however, the Yankees lagged, as they recruited few additional prospects. Located in New York with a large black population and an active sporting press, the Yankee situation came under more stringent scrutiny than other clubs. As the years passed with no blacks added to the squad, even Dan Daniel, a devoted defender often accused of being on the Yankee payroll, admitted, “If the Yankees weren’t guilty as charged, they were certainly going out of their way looking for trouble.”

The Yankees acquired Elston Howard for the Monarchs in 1950, and later that season they also picked up a 19-year old Peurto Rican phenom from the independent Provincial League named Vic Power. Power was a flashy and exciting prospect. Perhaps entirely too exuberant for the Yankees liking. He toiled needlessly in the farm system for several years. According to Tygiel:

His one-handed catches offended Yankee traditionalists. More significantly, Power rarely retreated from physical challenges, racial or otherwise. In 1953 he engaged in a fistfight with an opposing player. “He is a rough, tough customer. He refuses to scare easily,” wrote [black sportswriter, Wendell] Smith. “If you start punching, he’ll punch back.” Perhaps most important, rumors reached New York that Power dated white women. For any or all of these reasons, the Yankees decided that Power did not fit the requirements for their first black player.

Funny, but a combative young star like Power would seem to have fit in well with the likes of Billy Martin. Too bad Billy and his employers were so short-sighted. Power was eventually traded to the Philadelphia A’s in the winter of ’53. Instead of promoting a Cassius Clay, the Yankees would wait another full season until Howard, their Floyd Patterson, would break the color barrier.

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