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African-American passion in baseball

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By RANDY BLASER, Pioneer Press

Everyone knows Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the modern Major Leagues in 1947.

But I realized it took 13 more seasons for all 16 teams in the Major Leagues to finally have a black player on a team.

In those 13 seasons, nine black players were rookies of the year, and nine black players won the Most Valuable Player award.

That’s a lot of firsts in that great decade of firsts of the Civil Rights era.

And while African-Americans sought to make their marks in modern America, blacks changed the way baseball was played in the Majors.

The connections between the black experience in baseball and race relations in America are the focus of a great new exhibit at the Highland Park Library.

Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience opened last Sunday with Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter. A traveling exhibit in cooperation with the Hall of Fame and the American Library Association, it will run through Oct. 1.

“We’ve never had an exhibit that focused on sports,” Beth Keller, marketing specialist at the library, told me as she gave me a sneak peak at the exhibit.

“But it is not just sports,” she added. “It tells an important part of American history.”

Indeed, as we toured the exhibit, a library patron stopped us to tell us about Dick Allen, who starred for the Phillies in the 1960s and the White Sox in the 1970s, and his bat. He got Dick Allen’s bat as a kid, but was more enthused about telling us how the young Allen suffered prejudice as a young player in the minor leagues.

If that’s the kind of response this exhibit evokes, Highland Park can consider it a grand slam.

The exhibit takes us from Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played on a major league team in 1884, to blacks being banned from the majors, from the growth of the Negro Leagues to Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson, first black manager.

There’s signed memorabilia on loan from Bergie’s Sports Card Dugout in Highland Park, movie clips of black players and a planned film series screening some of the best baseball films ever made.

One night fans won’t want to miss is Sept. 22 when author Jonathan Eig will discuss his best-selling book on Jackie Robinson, Opening Day, The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.

If you love baseball and great stories about players who loved and changed the game and America, don’t miss this exhibit.

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Written by Symphony

August 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm

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