Clark Griffith Was Too Cheap To Integrate BaseballBreaking News
tags: racism, baseball, integration, Washington Senators
Other than that, [the Washington Senators] are famous for three things, in no particular order:
• The phrase, “First In War, First In Peace, And Last In The American League,” a tribute to George Washington and a mockery of the “Solons,” which was one of the ridiculous pet nicknames the Sporting News used to use for them. Player/manager Clark Griffith, who thought the original owners were too cheap to run a ballclub, assembled the money to buy the team and then became the next generation’s prototypical cheap owner. With modern athletes buying into teams now as places to unload their extra millions, this is a trend worth monitoring. The NatiSens won three American League pennants and one World Series in those years, essentially wasting the career of Walter Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and the team’s kindly old centerpiece.
• The popular 1954 book The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant and the subsequent play and movie Damn Yankees, in which a Senators fan sells his soul in exchange for being transformed into a Robert Redford-in-The-Natural type. There is singing and dancing and Gwen Verdon in tights striking poses that the censors thought too racy and therefore not worth your bother, but it was considered a hit to your grandparents.
• The time Clark Griffith, watching the Negro League Homestead Grays packing Griffith Stadium as a tenant of the Senators and watching black fans filling the segregated bleachers at the stadium for Senators games as well, thought it might be a good idea to tell legendary black sportswriter Sam Lacy in the Washington Tribune, “The time is not far off when colored players will take their places beside those of other races in the major leagues. However, I am not so sure that time has arrived yet.”
As explained by Brad Snyder in a 2003 Washington Post story, people in town took that to mean that Griffith, who had already shown a penchant for signing Cuban players of varying skin tones, would be the first man to integrate the game, especially with Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, future Hall of Famers, there for the signing.
Instead (and I think you know where this is heading), in 1943 Griffith asked Gibson and Leonard if they would consider signing with the Senators and then reneged because the money the Grays provided in rent and concessions was too good to give up. Black fans, their hopes bludgeoned over a few hot dogs and beers, stopped going to Senators games entirely and did not return even when they finally did sign a black player in 1954.
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