Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Moment Of Zen. Or Not...

It's been a while since we've seen the Phillie Phanatic here, so I thought I'd provide a fresh moment of zen:

Video credit: Major League Baseball

Then it occurred to me to wonder why he was dancing with Ugandans. There isn't a large Ugandan population in Philadelphia that I'm aware of. It turns out there was a logical explanation:

The first team from an African nation to win a game at the Little League World Series visited Citizens Bank Park today as guests of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The Uganda Little League Team received custom hats as part of their visit to the clubhouse.

Rollins hosts Uganda Little League team

Rollins, an African American, has been a fixture in Philadelphia for almost a decade. He was the league's Most Valuable Player in 2007, and he's one of the Phillies players whose jersey number is quite often visible on the backs of fans at their home park. None of this sounds terribly remarkable nowadays, but anyone who remembers how things were for black players on the Phillies roster when I was growing up would probably have a different perspective.

Back then they had a young player named Dick Allen. Allen was strong, had quick hands, good baserunning skills, and was at least an adequate fielder, despite having been converted to third base in his rookie season. As Wikipedia notes, however, things were very rough for him while he was playing in the City of Brotherly Love:

Non-baseball incidents soon marred Allen's Philadelphia career. In July 1965 he got into an infamous fistfight with fellow Phillie Frank Thomas. According to two teammates who witnessed the fight, Thomas swung a bat at Allen, hitting him in the shoulder. Johnny Callison said, "Thomas got himself fired when he swung that bat at Richie. In baseball you don't swing a bat at another player—ever." Pat Corrales confirmed that Thomas hit Allen with a bat and added that Thomas was a "bully" known for making racially divisive remarks. Allen and his teammates were not permitted to give their side of the story under threat of a heavy fine. The Phillies released Thomas the next day. That made the fans and local sports writers not only see Allen as costing a white player his job, but freed Thomas to give his version of the fight.


Some of the Phillies' own fans, known for being tough on hometown players even in the best of times, exacerbated Allen's problems. Initially the abuse was verbal, with obscenities and racial epithets. Eventually Allen was greeted with showers of fruit, ice, refuse, and even flashlight batteries as he took the field. He began wearing his batting helmet even while playing his position in the field, which gave rise to another nickname, "Crash Helmet", shortened to "Crash".

Wikipedia: Dick Allen

Allen was said to have a bad attitude, but throw enough batteries at most people and their attitude can go bad.

Another black player, Curt Flood, refused to be traded to Philadelphia, because the atmosphere was so bad for African-American ballplayers. Ironically, Dick Allen was one of the players involved in that trade.

So, fast forward from that situation to today, and it does seem a little amazing that a Phillies mascot would be dancing with a bunch of African kids during a game. It's even a bit amazing when you discount the fact that they somehow persuaded all those kids to dress like the mascot.

You can look at this as a sign of progress, and I think it is. Unfortunately, just a few miles away from the Phillies' spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida, some attendees to one of our major parties' political conventions reminded us that we still have a ways to go:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Two people were removed from the Republican National Convention Tuesday after they threw nuts at an African-American CNN camera operator and said, “This is how we feed animals.”

Multiple witnesses observed the exchange and RNC security and police immediately removed the two people from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Two people removed from RNC after taunting black camera operator

Racism doesn't affect me in my day to day life. I'm white, and I live in one of the more enlightened regions of the country. Still, every once in a while I'm reminded that it still exists in America, and there are still clearly places where people feel no reluctance to express those feelings.

It's a bit sad that a bunch of people dancing around in green felt have a lot more sense than some of the people who are attending one of the conventions that will choose our next President.

But that's the story of America in the early Twenty-First Century in a nutshell, isn't it?