I have been enjoying the rewards of retirement and no schedule to meet, but recent events have caused me to haul out the keyboard and dust off “Another Viewpoint,” my sports column that ran for the AFRO for several years.
A large portion of America has seen the movie 42, portraying the story of Jackie Robinson. I was among the interested, but in no hurry to rush to my local cinema because I know the story.
All was well with the world until my phone started ringing. A few of the media people in the Baltimore area were calling me to ask “Where was Sam Lacy in this movie?” This question prompted me to grab my spouse and my cap and prepare myself to cough up the twenty bucks it was going to take to gain entry to the theatre.
I saw the flick, and I have to admit I was left with a big hole in my soul. In order to explain this, I have to tell the story of Sam Lacy (my dad), and his contribution to Jackie Robinson and MLB. Here is the story, and you be the judge.
As a young man, Sam was a hustler. In today’s parlance, he was an entrepreneur. He did everything he could to make a buck as long as it didn’t require a trip to the police station. Among his hustles was the role of gopher for the Washington Senators baseball team. He would go for cigarettes, cleaning, tobacco and anything the players wanted.
As time unfolded, Sam found himself at the sport’s desk of the Afro American newspaper. He would spend hours reflecting on the talents he had seen among Negro League players and the Whites he had seen with the Senators and members of teams they played. This led him to petition Clark Griffith (Senators owner) for an opportunity for a colored player. This turned out to be a waste of time, so Sam began looking for another avenue.
Some years later, Sam found himself at the sport’s desk of the Chicago Defender. This was the opportunity he had been looking for. The Defender editor was on board with Sam’s thinking and agreed to use his influence toward the cause.
In the meantime, Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper was on the same page as Sam, and they became partners in crime. Working from different parts of the country was of no help, because they kept bumping into the same stonewall.
During this time, Branch Rickey of the Dodgers became a player in this game. To digress for a second, I feel it necessary to mention that Ricky wasn’t the first to feel the need to reach out. Bill Veeck president of the Cleveland Indians in 1947, was ready to pull the trigger, but sought Sam’s advice. Veeck had employed a midget, a one-armed player and other oddities to entertain the fans, and for this reason Sam advised against the plan. Sam thought that the employment of a colored player would be dismissed as just another act in Bill Veeck’s circus. For the record, Veeck signed Larry Doby 11 weeks after Jackie was signed.
In the meantime, the Chicago Defender editor had exerted his influence and arranged a meeting with the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Branch Rickey, and seeking an influential colored man to carry the torch, he sought out Paul Robeson. Robeson was a singer and star of stage and screen, but on the downside he had gone public with his leanings towards Communism. For this reason, he was the wrong man for the job.
After clearing away the obstacles, Rickey signed Jackie to a contract. The signing of Jackie was just the tip of the iceberg. As he ventured forth as a pioneer for the advancement of men of color in MLB, he found himself traversing a rocky road. He was denied entry into a park by state police who guarded the entrance. He gained entry by finding a loose board in the outfield fence, and just for the record, Sam Lacy was by his side as he crawled through that hole.
Sam was his roommate when the Dodgers were on the road, and he tells horror stories of some of the adventures they were a part of. One morning emerging from the rooming house where they stayed (no room at the Inn), they found a cross burning in the yard. This was an indicator that the Ku Klux Klan had visited overnight.
As events turned for Jackie, Sam was undergoing his share of mental anguish. He was once denied entry to the press box, but, taking a folding chair, he took a seat on the roof. He was soon joined by White reporters who were there in silent protest to this treatment.
I spent the early years at spring training with the Dodgers, and became fast friends with Jackie’s children, sometimes being recruited for babysitting duty.
This is just a condensed version of the contribution of the man who was left out in the cold.
See a related article on Sam Lacy’s involvement with Jackie Robinson: