Baseball's off-the-field racial attitudes should not be surprising if one reads the history of its integration clearly.
The real meaning of the Jackie Robinson revolution was not to get black players into major league baseball. The old Washington Homestead Grays, with Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell, won nine straight pennants (1937-45) and were a vastly superior team to their contemporary Washington Senators (first in war, first in peace, last in the American League). One year, 1944, Gibson hit more balls into Washington's distant bleachers (six) than the entire American League (zero). Is anyone to say that the Senators were major leaguers but the Grays were not?
It's fascinating to fantasize about Gibson, Leonard and Bell playing on the Senators with Mickey Vernon, George Case, Dutch Leonard, Cecil Travis, etc. The lowly Senators might have challenged the Yankees as a baseball dynasty, and the Senators might still be in Washington.
Anyway, the real meaning of what Branch Rickey did was not to get black players in but to get black owners out.
When the white leagues snatched Luke Easter and other Grays for little or no payment, Grays owner Cum Posey said bitterly: "It's like coming into a man's store and stealing the merchandise right off his shelves."
Once the white owners had grabbed black players, they had no need for black executives.
Nor for black fans.
In the 1940s the Grays were known to play before 30,000 fans in Griffith Stadium, only hours after the Senators had played before 3,000 in the same ballpark. I remember as a boy joining a packed house at Griffith Stadium to see Satchel Paige's Kansas City Monarchs challenge Gibson and the Grays.
But next time you go to an Orioles game in Baltimore, look around: the chances are you'll see more blacks playing the outfield or selling beer than you will see sitting in the grandstand. The presence of Eddie Murray, Jim Rice or Reggie Jackson in a lineup apparently doesn't draw black fans. These black stars, who once entertained blacks, are now paid -- and paid handsomely -- to entertain whites.
Can baseball woo the black fans back?
Does it want to?
I have heard it suggested that the owners do not want to attract more black fans to the parks; they fear that if they do, they'll lose even more white fans.
That may be the real reason the Al Campanis mindset has persisted for 40 years. And it may be the real obstacle Peter Ueberroth faces in trying to coax the owners into more than grudging, token affirmative action. In George Steinbrenner's words, will it "put more fannies in the seats?" If baseball thought it would, the game would have done something about it decades ago. John B. Holway's book, "Blackball Stars," will be published by Meckler Publishers this summer.