Soderholm-Difatte: How major league owners justified opposition to integration in 1946

From SABR member Bryan Soderholm-Difatte at on September 9, 2014:

Sixty-eight years ago, even as Jackie Robinson was clearly demonstrating he belonged in the major leagues while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Montreal, major league owners marshaled the same argument expressed in an internal e-mail by the owner of the NBA Atlanta Hawks—that black fans at his arena were hurting his team’s bottom line—to oppose the integration of major league baseball. 

The owner of the Atlanta Hawks has decided to sell his controlling stake of the NBA team because of the terrible optic from an e-mail to his general manager in which he complained that the Hawks were drawing an “overwhelmingly black audience” and that black crowds “scared away whites” from buying ticket-packages, to the financial detriment of the franchise. The same sentiment was expressed as the primary reason for opposing integration  in a consensus report delivered to Commissioner Albert “Happy” Chandler in August 1946 by major league club owners, who were universally against Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers, although there may have been one or two who were privately open-minded but not willing to take any lead in bucking the segregationist history of the major league game.

The junior Senator from Kentucky, who would have been up for re-election to his Senate seat in 1946, Chandler had been elected Baseball Commissioner as a dark horse candidate in a contentious vote of owners in April 1945, five months after the death of Kenesaw Mountain Landis (who most assuredly did not support the idea of integrating the major leagues, even if there was supposedly no official policy). Chandler did not, however, assume full-time the burdens of being Commissioner until finally resigning from the Senate in November 1945, meaning he was still quite new on the job when a subcommittee of owners that included the presidents and two franchise owners in each league presented him with their report addressing the fundamental issues facing Major League Baseball.

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Originally published: September 9, 2014. Last Updated: September 9, 2014.