Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Commissioner Happy Chandler Discussed Role in Integrating Baseball in Letter For Sale at Legendary Auctions

The best part about following the large Baseball auction houses is not the fantastic cards and memorabilia that they have.  Although, they are fun to gaze at.  Instead, I enjoy keeping tab because of the amazing amount of Baseball history that is often hidden in plain sight. 

(Dick Perez postcard of Chandler)
For instance, check out this letter that is currently for sale at Legendary Auctions.  It was written by former Kentucky Governor and MLB Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler to a curious fan in 1987.  In it Chandler describes his role in desegregating the game, while also (somewhat) diminishing the part that Branch Rickey played.  In fact, he sounds a bit bitter about being left out of history.

As you may know, just prior to the start of the 1947 season (Jackie's rookie year) the 16 team owners got together to debate and vote on whether he should be allowed into the league.  They voted 15-1 to not let him play.  As you can imagine, the result was not what the Dodgers wanted, and as we soon learned, it was not the result the Commissioner wanted either.  So, they worked together to make history happen.  Per Happy Chandler:
As soon as that meeting was over, Rickey, who had cast the only affirmative vote, called me and asked me to permit him to come to my place in Woodford Country to discuss the Jackie Robinson situation.  He came here and for an hour or so, at my cabin at the backside of my place here in the country, we discussed fully his wish to bring Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues.  He said that in view of the 15-1 vote of the club owners, it was impossible for him to bring Jackie Robinson from Montreal to Brooklyn without my full cooperation and support.  This was a fact, and he and I both recognized it.

I told him that it was unjust and unfair and that they could not any longer justify complete segregation with respect to Baseball.  I told him to bring Robinson in and, notwithstanding the 15-1 vote, we would help him make the fight.  The record will show that we did make it, and that it was a monumental decision.  Of course, I was the only person on earth who could approve the transfer of that contract from Montreal to Brooklyn.  
As for Chandlers view of Branch Rickey's role in the entire situation, he wrote this:
Rickey and his folks tried to take credit for Robinson's entrance into Baseball.  The only thing he did about it was to sign Jackie Robinson as a Baseball player.  For twenty-five years, as you know, my predecessor would not permit them to play.  In fact, just before he died, he made a final declaration: "Everything's been said about this that's gonna be said.  The answer is no."
To suggest that Rickey played only a minor part is obviously inaccurate.  At the same time, it's also unfortunate that history has largely glossed over the importance of Chandler's role in the drama.  He is right.  Without the Commissioner approval Jackie never would have been a Dodger, and we all should be thankful that Chandler saw fit to impose his will.  It must not have been easy for a former Democrat governor of a Southern state in the late-40's to buck deeply ingrained social conventions.  A Dixiecrat, he obviously was not.  A fellow trailblazer, he was.
(Auction Link)
(Auction Link)

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