Baseball fans didn’t pay much attention when, on April 15, the sport celebrated the 40th anniversary of the homer – his 715th – that made Hank Aaron MLB’s all-time HR leader. Their averted gaze was not surprising; not after Aaron chose the moment to decry the racism that dogged him then (1974) and continues to do so now, four decades later. Here’s a sample of the “thousands” of death threats and other hate mail that Aaron shared with USA Today, dating from his flirtation with Babe Ruth’s record:
“You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move.”
Aaron went on to hit a total 755 HRs, a record that, in turn, was broken by Barry Bonds (762). Hank remembers the period as pressure-filled and less-than-joyful. He felt isolated in what seemed a sport “meant for the lily-white.” Aaron has kept the racist mail received over the years. Asked why, he said:
“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. If you (don’t agree), you are fooling yourself… “We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at… President Obama (he) is left with his foot stuck in the mud from… the way he’s treated…We still have a long ways to go… Back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
Ta Nehisi Coates, in “The Case for Reparations,” his powerful argument published in the current Atlantic, identifies starch-shirted employees of the federal government and local housing agencies as clean-up hitters in the legal racist game to deny African-Americans the same home-ownership advantages whites received as recently as a half-century ago. The biased policy forced those denied to deal with profiteering speculators who guided them into sub-standard all-black neighborhoods. The ghettoization led, in turn, to sub-standard schools and the deficient education that has handicapped African-Americans throughout our history.
Some of us have seen the exploitation of blacks in our own changing neighborhoods: several struggling African-American families installed in two-family homes as part of a play designed to encourage white flight and greater opportunities for speculators. In response, most of us looked away, and moved out. Aaron referred to Braves execs ignoring him after he broke Ruth’s record: They were uncomfortable with the white reaction to their black player “(doing) something great…I was thrown to the wolves.”
Coates cites that prevalent stance in summing up his case: “An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” He adds that, if the reparations case leads to nothing more than a greater awareness by whites of their insensitivity toward the continuing plight of African-Americans, it would be a positive result. But… “More important(ly)… the payment of reparations would represent America’s (coming of age) out of the childhood myth of its innocence.”
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What We Know (or think we do, with the season a third complete): the NL Central has moved behind the AL East as a runner-up competitive division. The surprise emergence of the Brewers as an authentic contender gives the NLC four possible division winners. Despite the prolonged tailspin of the Rays, the ALE remains, in our estimation, a five-team race. Our fearless numerical estimate of the four other divisions: NLE, NLW and ALW, two contending teams, ALC one. (No questions, please.)
Surprise #2: With Mark Buehrle leading the rotation, and a slugging lineup, the Blue Jays have dismissed any suspicion that they are the ALE’s weak sister. Indeed, by the time they go head-to-head with the Yankees at the Stadium in two weeks, Toronto may have earned consideration as the division favorite.
Standings Spread: Only two of the six are single-digit divisions: we’re talking about the number of games separating first and last teams. The two: NL East, in which the leading Braves are six–and-a-half ahead of the last-place Phillies, and AL Central, in which the Tigers lead last-place KC by six games.
Late Monday Scores: Dodgers 5, White Sox 2; Pirates 10, Padres 3
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