‘What if’ story imagines an all-Black pro sports team

The Lynx have come closest to making it a reality

Sometimes a good “What if” story can be stimulating and thought provoking if for nothing else than its exploration of the endless possibilities of reality. Local author Peter Schilling, Jr. not long ago penned such a novel using real life folk and historical events.

(standing l-r) ESPN analyst Keith Law and author Peter Schilling, Jr. (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Its title might be misleading, but The End of Baseball (Ivan R. Dee) begins in 1944, a year before World War II ended and three years before Jackie Robinson wore a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform as the first Black baseball player in the modern era to play in the major leagues. The novel’s irrefutable facts include Bill Veeck (1914-1986), who at various times during his adult life owned the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox. He also signed Larry Doby, the first Black player to play in the American League.

But the novel also has Veeck, the owner of the financially strapped Philadelphia Athletics, assembling a major league baseball team stocked with a majority of Black players.

Schilling opens his book with the following scenario: Veeck plans to go against the baseball commissioner’s edict of no Black players and “rounded up a bunch of Negro investors and bought the Philadelphia Stars, a Negro League club.” He then holds “two spring training camps” — one for White players who he invites and subsequently releases, and the other held in secret for Black players.

Then Veeck presents the contracts to the commissioner, who has no other choice but to allow the all-Black team to take the field due to the war, wrote the author. Schilling’s novel poses the question, “Is America ready for this?” Of course, it didn’t actually happen.

Nonetheless, we asked Schilling earlier this year at a local book signing about his premise. “I don’t know,” responded Schilling. “It certainly would be interesting to have an all-Black team, but I think that would be different back in the ’40s.”

“Can you imagine?” remarked Mike Veeck, Bill Veeck’s son, on the same thought. “It’s not a stretch,” noted Mike. “Dad was as color-blind as anybody, but he also was a shrewd judge of talent. Abe Saperstein and Wendell Smith supplied him with a list of [Black baseball players],” he recalled of the late Harlem Globetrotters founder and the famed Black sportswriter.

But actually, before World War II the New York Renaissance (or the Rens) was the first all-Black professional basketball team. It existed for three decades (1922-1949), and Pittsburgh on September 1, 1971 was the first MLB club with an all “minority” starting lineup.

“We really had no idea that history was being made,” recalled Al Oliver, who played first base, in an MLB.com article. The Sporting News in a later edition that September simply noted that the Pirates used a “combination of American and Latin Negroes” in that game.

Of course, in reality nearly 70 percent of the NFL players are Black, and a little over that are NBA Black players. Black Major League Baseball players have dropped to as low as four percent in 2013.

So it couldn’t happen, an all-Black team, right? It has come close to a reality in the WNBA. A nearly all-Black team has occurred three times with the Minnesota Lynx — 10 of 12 players were Black in 2010 and 2011, and this season’s 11-player roster is all Black except for Lindsay Whalen.

“It certainly would be interesting,” stated Schilling. “It almost seems like it would be difficult today to do.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.