by Linsey Heiser
“Like America, baseball has evolved and is more than just a sport,” the president of the history club, senior Marie Aragona, said, as she gave the opening remarks at this year’s history club forum. The symposium titled “Baseball and the American Tradition” was held on Saturday, Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Five baseball scholars were invited to each speak on a specific aspect of the game.
The leadoff speaker, Dr. Gai I. Berlage, professor of women’s studies at Iona College, spoke about women ball players and their part in American baseball history. Although many do not know, according to Berlage, baseball has a long, rich history of women players. Berlage said that the press is either misleading the public, or is unaware of early women in sports. As early as 1866, Vassar College had a girl’s baseball team.
In early times, it was hard for society to consider a woman to be a serious player. Instead, women were to give up their tomboyish ways and become ladies. “The way for men to prove their masculinity was by catching a ball. The way for women to prove their femininity was to catch a man,” Berlage said.
For the women who did play baseball, “softball” became the appropriate term. Doctors believed that playing baseball would cause exhaustion for women. Often, women were recruited only because of their looks and sometimes men were strategically placed on women’s teams.
Some of the most famous women in baseball were Lizzie Murphy, who made her living playing baseball, Amanda Clement, an umpire, and Lizzie Arlington, a pitcher.
Dr. William Simons, professor of history at SUNY-Oneonta, spoke about Joe DiMaggio and the American ideal. Joe DiMaggio is arguably one of the greatest all-around players of the game. Although the press portrayed him negatively, he always kept dignity and class.
The main point of Simons’ talk was the similarities between Joe DiMaggio, an Italian player, and Hank Greenberg, a Jewish player. Both DiMaggio and Greenberg married actresses and both wore the number 5. According to Simons, they both brought a wide audience to baseball by bringing in different ethnicities. In the 1930s and 1940s, DiMaggio and Greenberg were the two most important people in their ethnic groups.
Because of the racist views of the time, Simons described DiMaggio and Greenberg as “a counterbalance of the negative views of both of their ethnic groups.” They were the first of the Italians and of the Jewish to become heroes to Americans.
Ellen Rendle of the Historical Society of Delaware spoke about the invisible hero, William “Judy” Johnson. Johnson was a Negro League player who was denied the right to things because of his color. Johnson began as a scorekeeper earning 10 cents per game. In 1920, Johsnon had his first try-out for a pro-African American team in the Negro National League.
In his first year with the Hilldales, he made $115 a month. After 1923, Johnson played 3rd base in the Eastern Colored League and in 1930, he played for the Homestead Grays in Pittsburgh. Eventually, Connie Mack let Johnson into the Major Leagues, but only to observe. According to Rendle, Johnson accepted the terrible conditions of being in the Negro Leagues, and left behind a legacy of courage and dignity.
Johnson was soft-spoken and on the field tried to get into the head of the baserunners. He studied every game and had a desire to play hard. After his playing days, Johnson became an active alumnus of the Negro Leagues and in 1975 was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He also served as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Dr. Robert Ruck, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke on the influence of the Caribbean on baseball. According to Ruck, the impact of the Caribbean on baseball has never been greater than today. Only California sends more players to the Major Leagues than the Dominican Republic does. “The game matters in the Caribbean, before the money issue,” Ruck said.
One of the reasons baseball became popular in the Caribbean was because of Cuba. “Baseball was an activity that Cuba took from us, but they made it their own,” Ruck said. Cuba then went out to surrounding areas and preached baseball to Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
“The game of baseball is an arena to form an identity of who the players are,” Ruck said. Having the game in the Caribbean gives many the chance to do this. Over the past few years, Sammy Sosa has been the number one Caribbean resident because of his baseball skill and popularity.
The final speaker of the day was Dr. Lawrence D. Hogan, senior professor of history at Union County College in New Jersey. Hogan spoke about Jackie Robinson and Black baseball in America.
The first Negro Era in baseball was after Plessy vs. Ferguson, a landmark segregation case. Teams were sponsored by industries and the players were transported by trains from city to city. During the Depression, the Negro National League and the Negro American League were the two main Negro Leagues. After Jackie Robinson paved the way for African-American players and was included into the Major Leagues, the Negro Leagues dissolved.
Hogan was joined by Stanley Glenn, a former Negro League player, who played for the Philadelphia Stars. Glenn recalled what it was like to play in the Negro Leagues and remembered some of his former teammates. One thing that upsets Glenn is the selfishness and greediness of today’s players.
Senior Karen Erb attended the forum and liked learning about the history of baseball. “As an avid fan and student of the game of baseball, I really enjoyed the speakers and the topics presented. I gained more of a historical perspective and a broader understanding of the sport.”