This article was written by Jen McGovern
This article was published in the The National Pastime: From Swampoodle to South Philly (Philadelphia, 2013)
The history of baseball in America has always been closely tied to the history of race in America. In Philadelphia, historic hostilities to integration blemished the city’s reputation of racial acceptance. Current Phillies fans have gradually embraced diversity but some still sense lingering racial tensions.
The history of baseball in America has always been closely tied to the history of race in America. The progression of baseball from an exclusionary sport to a beacon for integration and eventually to a global game has paralleled our country’s movement from slavery to the civil rights movement to modern day multiculturalism. While the changes have taken place nationwide, they have played out differently in cities and regions across the country. In each city, the story of race and baseball is enmeshed with the city’s history and culture as well as with the actions of professional organizations and the attitudes of the fans. In Philadelphia, historic hostilities to integration blemished the city’s reputation of racial acceptance. Current Phillies fans have gradually embraced diversity but some still sense lingering racial tensions.
Cities are important for the ways in which their local contexts influence ideas about race and ethnicity, but also for their function in building community and “place bonding.” Sports teams produce strong positive identifications with cities or regions, produce a communal spirit, and unite the city as whole.[fn]John Bale, “The Place of ‘Place’ in Cultural Studies of Sports,” Progress in Human Geography 12, no. 4 (December 1, 1988): 507–524. [/fn]
For if residents invest themselves in favor of their local athletic teams, it is partly because those teams are exponents of a community to which they feel themselves somehow bound and in whose destiny they find themselves in some way implicated. The connection, however, is by no means a simple one. A local team is not only an expression of the moral integrity of a community; it is also a means by which that community becomes conscious of itself and achieves its concrete representation. Therefore, an athletic team must be something more than just an assemblage of skilled performers whose activities conform to physiological or psychological necessity. It is in fact, and above all, the representative of something beyond itself.[fn]Barry Schwartz and Stephen F. Barsky, “The Home Advantage,” Social Forces 55, no. 3 (March 1977): 657[/fn]
Because baseball teams invariably come to represent their cities, the meanings and ideas about race and ethnicity that are generated on the baseball field are important elements of the local context and the way the local context is projected outward toward others. This article examines this process in Philadelphia by briefly reviewing the city’s history of racial acceptance and by illustrating current fan attitudes on the subject.
Philadelphia has been a home to professional baseball teams for over a century, but currently hosts only Major League Baseball’s Phillies.[fn]In addition to the American League Philadelphia Athletics, the region also was home to many prominent professional and semi-professional Negro League organizations including the Philadelphia Pythians, Excelsiors, Giants, Stars, and the Hilldale baseball club. For more information on black baseball in Philadelphia, see Jerrold Casway, “Octavius Catto and the Pythians of Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Legacies, May 2007 and Robert Gregg; “Personal Cavalries: Sports in Philadelphia’s African-American Communities, 1920–1960,” Ethnicity, Sport, Identity: Struggles for Status, edited by Andrew Ritchie, 1st ed. Routledge, 2004, 88–115.[/fn] The Phillies were infamously involved with integration in the early years. Early in Jackie Robinson’s rookie season, Manager Ben Chapman and several Phillies players notoriously harassed Robinson with racial taunts and remarks. Later that season, Phillies’ general manager Herb Pennock tried to dissuade Branch Rickey from bringing Robinson to Philadelphia. Rickey did not relent and Jackie traveled with the team, which had booked several rooms at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin hotel. When the team arrived, they were turned away by the hotel manager who told them not to come back “while you have any nigras with you!”[fn]Harold Parrot. The Lords of Baseball. (Praeger 1976)[/fn]
The Phillies were slow to integrate despite pressure from the black press, leaders of the black community, and the local NAACP. Phillies’ owner Bob Carpenter said, “I’m not opposed to Negro players. But I’m not going to hire a player of any color or nationality just to have him on the team.”[fn]Bruce Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season (Princeton University Press,
1993), 148.[/fn] The Phillies finally integrated their major league roster in 1957—ten years after the Dodgers broke the modern day color barrier—leaving the American League’s Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox as the only teams with all-white rosters.[fn]John Kennedy was the first African American to appear on the Phillies’
major league roster.[/fn], [fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season.[/fn] Once integrated, the Phils continued to struggle with racial issues. The organization didn’t end segregation in spring training facilities until 1962. In addition, they didn’t feature any star black players until Dick Allen’s rookie campaign in 1964. Until then, while most major league teams were hiring prominent black players with big drawing power, such as Robinson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, the Phillies only employed some marginal black and Latino players.[fn]William C. Kashatus, September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration (Pennsylvania State Univ Pr, 2005).[/fn]
It wasn’t only the organization that had a negative image when it came to racial issues; Philadelphia fans were perceived to be a hostile bunch.[fn]The fans’ poor reputation is not limited to racial issues. According to Kuklick, a gang of fans once mobbed Ty Cobb after an Athletics game at Shibe park and later disconnected the electric cable to the trolley that Cobb attempted to escape on. Additionally, the national media can’t seem to forget that Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus.[/fn] Roy Campanella, who was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, disliked playing in Shibe Park because he felt that the white fans “spewed racial hate.”[fn]Kashatus, September Swoon; Neil Lanctot, Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).[/fn] Philly fans seemed to take things to the next level with Dick Allen who wore a helmet in the field to withstand the objects that were thrown at him during games.[fn]Kashatus, September Swoon.[/fn] Allen was known to speak his mind, to act out, and to complain about the adverse treatment. The white media described him as arrogant, militant, malcontented, and radical but rarely acknowledged the racism that Allen faced and described. The black media portrayed him as misunderstood. Kuklick wrote that “in Philadelphia’s racially charged atmosphere, Allen’s own situation was inevitably distorted, not only by the press but also by the city’s baseball fans.”[fn]Ibid., 158.[/fn]
As the civil rights movement swept across the country, some white fans still harbored prejudice against blacks, but the organization tried to move forward. General Manager John Quinn, hired in 1959, began to increase the amount of black talent in the organization through free agency and trades. In 1958, the organization had only three black players in its minor league system, but by 1961, that number increased to 34 and continued to rise through the mid-Sixties.[fn]William C. Kashatus, “Dick Allen, the Phillies, and Racism,” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 9, no. 1 (2000): 151–191.[/fn] Even with these efforts, the Phillies had few black players and even fewer black stars throughout the 1970s and 1980s—a time when black players thrived in the big leagues. The 1993 National League Champions were one of the few teams in MLB with an all-white starting lineup, though they did feature several black platoon players and role players.[fn]Benjamin Phillips, “Great White High Hopes: Race, Masculinity, and the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies,” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 19, no. 2 (2011): 61–76.[/fn] In Great White High Hopes, sports scholar Benjamin Phillips describes how the ’93 team was symbolized by a “rugged, white masculinity emblematic of working class males.” Phillips shows that when speaking about the team, both the fans and the media most often spoke about qualities like teamwork, work ethic, hustle, scrappiness, and grit, qualities which are commonly associated with white athletes. He argues that fans celebrated the whiteness of the team by emphasizing these character traits over the athleticism and physicality of the players.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Today the Philadelphia Phillies, like most major league teams, have a diverse roster. Of the 49 players who appeared for the 2012 Phillies, 69 percent of the players had a white European background. This is slightly higher than the league average of 61 percent.[fn]Richard E. Lapchick, “2012 Racial and Gender (sic) Report Card: Major League Baseball,” 2012, http://web.bus.ucf.ed/documents/sport/2012-MLB-RGRC.pdf.[/fn] The Phillies had five African American players, two of whom played prominent roles on their five consecutive division championship teams. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard each have three All-Star games and an MVP award to their credit. The Phillies have recently strengthened their presence in Latin America and their 2012 roster listed eight Latino players from four countries: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Venezuela.[fn]Paul Hagen, “Phillies Boost Their Latin Grade,” Philadelphia Daily News, May 3, 2011.[/fn] One Hawaiian player and one player of mixed Chinese/European ancestry also appeared for the Phils in 2012.
The current roster demonstrates that the Phillies have moved away from racially intolerant attitudes and towards embracing diversity. A great deal of research exists on how this transition has happened with major organizations such as the Phillies and the MLB; however, far less research exists on current fan attitudes towards these issues.[fn]MaxBlue,PhiladelphiaBaseball(PublishAmerica,2012);David M. Jordan, Occasional Glory: The History of the Philadelphia Phillies (McFarland & Company, 2003); Kashatus, September Swoon; Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season; Christopher Threston, The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia (Mcfarland & Co Inc Pub, 2003).[/fn], [fn]Alan M. Klein, Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); Adrian Burgos, Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007); Rob Ruck, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game, First Edition (Beacon Press, 2011); William M. Simons, The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture 2003 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003); Sumei Wang, “Taiwanese Baseball: A Story of Entangled Colonialism, Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism,” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 33, no. 4 (November 1, 2009): 355–372.[/fn] Their viewpoints are important because fan actions and behaviors have always been intertwined with attitudes about race and ethnicity in Philadelphia, as illustrated by Dick Allen’s career. It isn’t only negative attitudes about race that are important. Bruce Kuklick notes that “white rooters seemed to come to the stadium to witness in Allen’s behavior the attraction and the revulsion of this time of shifting race relations. The park was the place where many white people expressed puzzlement, rage, along with a modicum of grudging respect.”[fn]To Every Thing a Season, 163.[/fn] Matthew Jacobsen, in his essay, “Richie Allen, Whitey’s Ways, and Me: A Political Education in the 1960s,” probably spoke for many when he cited Allen’s career as the issue that inspired him to learn about race and politics.[fn]Matthew Frye Jacobson, “‘Richie’ Allen, Whitey’s Ways, and Me: A Political Education in the 1960’s,” In the Game: Race, Identity, and Sports in the Twentieth Century, ed. Amy Bass (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 19–46.[/fn]
Most of what researchers know about race has come through historical records and media analysis. Very few researchers have conversed with fans to ask them how they think about and understand race and ethnicity.[fn]One of the few published articles about fan opinions was published by Alan Klein, “Latinizing Fenway Park: A Cultural Critique of the Boston Red Sox, Their Fans, and the Media,” Sociology of Sport Journal 17, no. 4 (2000): 403–422.[/fn] In the spring and summer of 2011, I conducted focus group interviews with baseball fans. The interviews, part of a larger project, generated great conversations about baseball in Philadelphia, including some about race and ethnicity in today’s game and in the Philadelphia area. From these interviews, I was able to gain a sense of how fans think and feel about this issue. The ideas and opinions expressed in these conversations were informed by the history of the organization, the city, and the personal lives of each participant.
Over the course of four months, I conducted eight focus group interviews with fans from across the Philadelphia region that I recruited through online advertisements, social networks, and email lists.[fn]The recruitment method was not intended to yield a representative sample of Philadelphians, but to locate individuals who were willing to engage in conversation about baseball. The recruitment did result in a diverse subject pool. Twenty five percent of the participants were women and the remaining seventy five percent were men. Thirty-six respondents listed their racial or ethnic identification: White/Caucasian (14), Black/African American (8), Asian (8), Hispanic/Latino (4), Jewish (1), Afro-Latino (1).[/fn] In the focus group interviews, I placed various pictures of the Phillies on the table to spark discussion. I asked the respondents many questions about baseball and about Philadelphia; one subject that we discussed was race. I report the findings below including some thoughts and quotes from our conversations, using pseudonyms for all fans. My intention is not to amass data capable of addressing the level of racial equality in baseball today but to report on how at least some Philadelphia fans view and understand the issue. Overall, the fans I spoke to perceived race and ethnicity as issues that should not matter when it came to baseball, but had a range of opinions as to whether and how much race and ethnicity still do matter in today’s game.[fn]Most of the opinions did not differ by racial group; however, I listed each participants self-identified racial or ethnic group to show how these opinions were shared by a diverse group of Philadelphians.[/fn]
Many of the older fans in my focus groups were able to articulate feelings about baseball and racial progress. Nick, a white fan, recalled some of his early memories of the Phillies as he “grew up in [Philadelphia’s] very racist Kensington” neighborhood and began to root for the “mostly white” Phillies in the 1960s and 1970s. He vividly recalled the racial overtones associated with Dick Allen’s career and the Phillies’ poor reputation with racial issues. Nick remembered that his dad often commented on the team’s lack of black players. For Nick, the Phillies only really achieved progress when they “got Hispanic players and more African Americans. That’s when the team started taking off.” He pointed to Gary Maddox, Manny Trillo, and Bake McBride as three minority players whom he admired while growing up.
Other fans noticed these changes as well. Dave, another white fan, found it a shame that in Philadelphia “there was a long period of time where ownership made a conscious effort to try to discriminate against certain racial types of ballplayers” but felt that “there’s not nearly the sort of bias about baseball that there was in the sixties and all through the seventies… I think that’s sorta [sic] gone away now because…it’s a different world.” The changes did not just occur within the Phillies organization, but in the media as well. White fan Andrew stated that the “newspaper used to talk about people of a racial overtone as dark-skinned or dusky, or some other adjective that they used to attach to them. You don’t see that anymore.” In another group, Lisa, also white, commented that the Philadelphia media brought up race frequently when they covered education and other social issues, but not when they discussed sports.
The changes have made a difference to many, including some Latino fans that I interviewed. Long-time fan Mateo recalled a time when the “Phillies weren’t that friendly to Latinos” and expressed how changes in the organization’s position have made rooting for the local team more enjoyable to him (though he admitted that winning didn’t hurt). The other participants in this group echoed Mateo’s sentiments by recognizing differences in the mainstream English language media. “I remember when I started living in Philadelphia,” said Ramona, “I used to watch the game and get infuriated because the name Guzmán, for example. They [the media] would say GUZman. Now, they say GuzMAN, and you know that they make an effort to pronounce it correctly, and that for me has been a sign of improvement. They pronounce Ruiz’s name correctly, Polanco’s name correctly, and Valdez’s name correctly, whereas before there was no effort put in.” Hank, an African American fan, probably best expressed the change when he exclaimed, “Here in Philly we have broke that barrier and said to hell with that. You don’t have to be just white. You don’t have to be almost black. You don’t have to be this or that. You can be anything.”
These changes have an impact on all fans, who valued diversity on the field as symbolic of what we hope to achieve in our communities and our relationships. When talking about the facets of the game that were most important, Paul used a photo of three players celebrating at home plate to bring up the topic of team chemistry. He also pointed out that “two of these guys are Hispanic, Ibanez and Ruiz, and then you got Ross Gload who is Caucasian, so it really does reach across all races.” To Paul, who is white, baseball has taught him not just about teamwork, but that good teamwork spans racial differences. Lenny, an African American fan, also commented on how he enjoyed seeing “a group of diverse guys from diverse backgrounds and countries and languages have a really nice collective vibe.” Numerous other fans spoke of how they enjoyed seeing players from different ethnic groups and appreciated learning about those players’ cultures and histories. Fans learned about teamwork from the players but they also learned about it from the leadership. Hank noted that Ruben Amaro Jr. “is the first Latino that’s general manager for us and he’s making all the right moves. He got Lee, he got Halladay. I mean this guy is doing yeoman’s work and he’s a Spanish guy.” Hank admitted that in admiring the Hispanic American’s work, he gained more respect for Latinos working in baseball leadership.
Fans commented on the fact that while this rich cultural learning can take place in many sports, baseball is “probably the most racially mixed now that I think about it. I mean think about the Eagles and the Sixers and the Phillies. You have more of a mixture on the Phillies than you do on the other teams.” In a separate focus group, Nam, who is black, added that “thanks to Asia and Latin America, [baseball] is the one sport where you can really find equality.”
Our discussions were not limited to the diverse pool of competitors. A number of focus group respondents also talked about how baseball functioned as a way to bring the city’s residents together, regardless of racial or ethnic divisions. White Philadelphian Tammy stated that “when the Phillies win, the whole city is in a good mood.” In another group, Dave waxed triumphantly that baseball was the greatest sport because when the “team is going good, you got the whole city—even strangers talk to each other. People hold the door for you at Wawa [convenience store].” The other fans in Dave’s group were of various races and ethnicities. This diverse group noted how they could talk about the Phillies with strangers in restaurants, on the subway, and in other public places in the city. The respondents felt that baseball united them with other city residents, rather than divided them. A third group, composed of multicultural fans, felt similarly. Rafael, who identified as Latino, mentioned that this “spirit of Philadelphia” carried over to the players, proudly claiming that it was one of the incentives that caused Cliff Lee to spurn millions from the Yankees.
It is clear that the focus group respondents witnessed positive racial change within the Phillies organization. These changes are important because they serve as symbolic representations of racial equality, both on and off the field. Despite the many positive messages that the game can teach about diversity, fans realized that the game “still has a long way to go” in order to reach true racial equality. They mentioned language barriers, changing demographics, lack of minority representation in key leadership positions, and the lack of minority fans. They also discussed potential biases within the media and within the fans themselves.
As the game has brought in a more diverse player pool, the number of players speaking different languages has increased. While some saw baseball players bonding across differences, others noticed how they could also be separated by cultural barriers such as language. At a Reading Phillies game, white fan Tommy was watching warm-ups and noticed that “all the American players, white and black, were all together and all of the Latino players kind of separated themselves together.” Tommy also observed that Asian players with translators have a far different experience from Latino players who have to rely on teammates for communication assistance. Like Tommy, other fans discussed how language might actually prevent the type of teamwork-spanning difference that Paul described earlier. They even noted how it could be a barrier to promotion for some players. Many thought Carlos Ruiz was a great leader but worried that his struggles with English would prevent him from becoming a coach or a manager someday. Others agreed that while there were many talented, knowledgeable Hispanic players, they probably “could not get into the booth with an accent.”
In addition to language differences, numerous fan groups discussed the decline of African American ballplayers. Multiple fans were concerned with this issue and believed that MLB should continue programs such as Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) in order to ensure that the game remains a diverse representation of our country. Other fans noticed the corresponding rise in Latino players. Hank sees the impact of Hispanic players on the city. He observed that if you “go to certain [Latino] neighborhoods in North Philly, Latinos have little league for the teams. And those kids can play!”
Despite the changing player demographics, fans largely agreed that opportunity to make the big league hinged more on a player’s ability than his race. They did, however, observe a lack of minority players in key leadership positions on the field. Academic sport researchers refer to this phenomenon as “stacking.”[fn]Eric Smith and Wilbert M. Leonard II, “Twenty-Five Years of Stacking Research in Major League Baseball: An Attempt at Explaining This Re-Occurring Phenomenon,” Sociological Focus 30, no. 4 (1997): 321–331.[/fn] In a group of black fans, Hank joked that if you had “a white guy, a Latino guy, and a black guy—tell me who plays second base? The white guy!” In a group of white fans, Paul turned to the group and asked, “Off the top of your head, can you think of any African American starting pitchers other than CC Sabathia?” In nearly all of the groups, fans commented on the abundance of white pitchers and the dearth of minority pitchers. In doing so, they were calling attention to the fact that while baseball has made many advances towards racial equality, there were still some signs that all groups did not have equal opportunities. These fans felt that baseball was truly at its best when the best athletes were given a shot to be the best at any position. Paul lamented having to imagine a baseball world without the likes of Sabathia, Dave Stewart, and Bob Gibson.
While some fans talked about the composition of teams, others talked about the demographics of other baseball personnel. They noted that there were more minority managers and coaches than in the past but felt that baseball “still had a long way to go.” Marcus, a Puerto Rican fan, felt as if organizations “were not interviewing Hispanic candidates for managing positions at the same rate that they do with whites.” Data published by Richard Lapchick confirm that the number of minorities in high leadership positions has improved, but is still low when compared to whites.[fn]Lapchick, “2012 Racial and Gender (sic) Report Card: Major League Baseball.”[/fn] The fans in other groups stressed that best baseball leaders were the ones who could gain respect of others—regardless of their race. Paul felt that policies encouraging organizations to hire more minorities were helpful because such policies “forced people [owners] to look in a different direction rather than going back to the same pool of candidates, many of whom stunk.”
Just as some fans noticed that full racial equality had not been achieved on the field, another set of fans questioned the ability of baseball to bridge racial divides among fans in the stands. Dave noted that he rarely saw any black fans at Phillies games. Salina, a Latina fan, agreed and stated that she noticed “mostly white men” at Phillies games. She questioned the ability of the team to bring the city together if sports fans were racially polarized and if only certain social classes could afford to attend the games. Many agreed with Salina, showing that fans can have a range of opinions about how a sport can affect a community.
Fans also had differing opinions on how the media deal with race and ethnicity. As stated earlier, many noticed that the amount of racism in the media has decreased over time, though some claimed that was only because broadcasters needed to “be more careful” about what they say and how that say it. Lai, a Chinese immigrant, stated that while broadcasters may not make explicit references to race, he “feels from the tone that it is a little different” when the media discuss players of different races. He gave the example of media coverage of Barry Bonds versus that of Mark McGwire and said that he observed subtle differences in how the players were described and criticized that he attributed to race. In another group, Andrew, who earlier claimed that the media ceased to use overt discriminatory terms, said that he thought racism could still be “hidden in code words.” Andrew felt that “there was a little bit of a racist attitude from the sports writers who were reporting on some of the things that Jimmy Rollins did,” such as being benched by his manager for failing to run hard to first on a weakly-hit ground ball. The other fans in this group unanimously agreed that Rollins was in the wrong and should have hustled but they were unsure as to whether or not a white player in a similar situation would have been treated differently than Rollins was.
Phillies fans had varying opinions on how the media treated African American players such as Rollins. They also had a number of opinions on how the fans themselves treated the same group of players. Dick Allen’s case was illustrative of the negative reputation that Philadelphians had regarding African American players during the sixties. The world around baseball has changed drastically since that time, but the negative reputation has lingered. Several days after the Phillies were eliminated from the 2010 playoffs, Philadelphia sportswriter Marcus Hayes was conducting an online interactive chat with fans. During this conversation, Hayes noted how fans did not seem to be too upset with the numerous fielding miscues that Utley had made in the final playoff series while they harshly criticized Howard for striking out looking in the final at-bat. Hayes believed that the fans gave Utley this “free pass” because he was white.[fn]“Phillies Chat with Marcus Hayes,” Philadelphia Daily News, October 26, 2010,” accessed November 21, 2010, http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/phillies/Phillies_chat_with_Marcus_Hayes_102610.html.[/fn]
I asked the fans what they thought about Hayes’s remarks and if they thought fans still treated black and white players differently. Most fans agreed that Howard was criticized more harshly than Utley, and many admitted to being some of the worst critics. A few fans thought that race played a role in this difference—Tommy even confessed that he had “a friend who went on this tirade of racial slurs after that [incident]—like ‘he’s a big monkey’ and ‘blah, blah, blah.’ And I was like ‘Dude, calm down!’” Most other fans believed that criticisms of Howard were due to the fact that he was the highest paid player on the team who failed to come through with a clutch hit. Erica stated that “some fans came down harder on Howard for that [failure], and part of it, I think has to do with his race, and the other part of it has to do with the situation.” In another group, Mike also contended that Howard’s race may have been a partial factor but Mike’s opinion was quickly overwhelmed by the other fans, who attributed the differences entirely to the situation.
While Hayes was only using Howard’s performance in the playoffs as an example of a larger phenomenon, most fans could not separate their overall opinions about Howard and Utley from their opinions about that particular situation. None of the fans shifted the conversation to a discussion of other examples, perhaps from a less dramatic moment, that might illustrate the feelings of Philadelphia fans towards these two players. The groups focused so much on the situation that they ignored the second part of the question asking whether fans preferred white players over black players, until after they came to the conclusion that race didn’t matter. At this point, they began to name other situations where race did not play a role rather than thinking about ones where it might. Because most fans believed that baseball players were judged only by their talent and not by their race, I concluded that it was easier for them to find examples of meritocracy rather than examples of racism. Based on my research I have come to believe that those fans who were personally disappointed by Howard’s performance wanted to make it clear that their dissatisfaction was due to the strikeout so that their attitudes were not perceived by other fans as racism.
Baseball is an intricate game and this situation is no different. In this case, Howard’s role on the team, the pressure of the situation, and his race are all plausible explanations for the criticism he received; but sorting through those layers of complexity to isolate the role of race can be very difficult. There was a time in American society where unequal treatment of racial groups was far less complex; white and dark-skinned players could not play in the same baseball leagues, dine at the same establishments, or ride together on public buses. Since Jackie Robinson’s ground-breaking achievement and the successes of the civil rights movement, many racial barriers have fallen but not all racial issues have fallen away. American society and the game of baseball are both still dealing with the complexities of race and racism. So is Philadelphia.
In these interviews, Philadelphia fans demonstrated that the city is moving away from its sordid racial past. Many fans have adopted more open-minded attitudes and behaviors towards racial issues, though some racial tensions still remain. In the sixties, fans threw batteries at Dick Allen but now they cheer loudly for black players. Despite this change, some still believe that white players remain the true fan favorites of the city. Many minority respondents reported that they felt more welcome and respected as Phillies fans today than they did in the sixties, seventies, and eighties and others still feel out of place among a largely white fan base. Some fans value how diverse groups of players model the cooperation that we hope to achieve in our society while others are skeptical at the lack of diversity in leadership positions and unfair treatment in the media.
Struggles within the game of baseball have always symbolized larger struggles in our nation and in our cities. Over time, baseball has become multicultural and the US has transformed into a diverse nation, but full equality has still not arrived in either sphere. This trend is reflected in Philadelphia, where baseball fans show that the local game has made great strides but still faces persistent challenges to full racial equality. It is my hope that the game of baseball will continue to serve as a symbol of diversity but more importantly that this wonderful game will also forge ahead in the push for racial justice and equality.
JENNIFER McGOVERN earned her Ph.D in sociology from Temple University. She presented and volunteered at past SABR conferences. She is primarily interested in sport and equality, sport fan narratives, and social issues within sports, though baseball is her favorite sport to study and to watch.