2009 Topps American Heritage #51, Martin Luther King, Jr.

2009 Topps American Heritage #51, Martin Luther King Jr.

In respectful observation of MLK day, please enjoy this tribute card to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, there’s no shortage of well-researched articles, essays, and other accounts about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his national, even global legacy. Likewise, King’s far-reaching influences are also recognized in his impact on baseball. In truth, and with consideration of the historical timeline, it is probably easier to claim that baseball and its barrier-breaking players of color held far-reaching influences and recognized impact—on King and his civil rights mission. (In “Baseball’s Impact on Martin Luther King Jr.,” writer David suggests as much.) Indeed, former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe incredulously relayed one occasion when King himself praised the accomplishments of his predecessors in baseball in no uncertain terms:

‘Don, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you guys setting up the minds of people for change. You, Jackie and Roy Campanella will never know how easy you made it for me to do my job.’

Can you imagine that? How easy we made it for Martin Luther King!

In any case, preceding and eventually alongside King, legends like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and many other important early African American ballplayers made their own special kind of civil rights contributions and advancements in sports culture and beyond.

Doubtlessly, though, King sold himself short in that exchange with Newcombe. Anyone can see as much. Look at the common thread that runs through the many histories and retrospectives: despite the context or means of communication, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached hopeful messages of freedom and equality through emphasis on brotherhood, sisterhood, and, simply, humanity. Directly or indirectly, the force of his oratory persona, rhetorical skill, and those essential principles resonated with and profoundly touched countless individuals and communities. That resonation carried (back) through the baseball world as well.

For example, St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood certainly revered the man, and Flood made a gift of a painted portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. to King’s widow (though there’s debate about whether Flood actually painted or merely “commissioned” such work). Then there’s the notable telegram that Martin Luther King, Jr. once sent to Jackie Robinson. It’s even as though a King-like aura would eventually transmute and metamorphose in Robinson himself in his later, more official advocacy and leadership roles like his work for the NAACP. But ultimately it is speculation as to who made more of an impression on whom over the course of King and Robinson’s face-to-face meetings and whatever other correspondence. Still, not unlike that renowned power King possessed—to inspire audiences and listeners and move them to tears with his words—Robinson seemed to have a bit of that in him, too. For example, in No No: A Dockumentary (2014), Dock Ellis shares a letter addressed to him from Jackie Robinson; Ellis audibly, almost uncontrollably weeps on the tape recording upon reading Robinson’s note. Instances such as these powerfully suggest the manifold ways in which a legacy like King’s can live on and be passed down through generations in kindred stories and artifacts.

To add to those stories and artifacts, this poignant, colorful photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. playing baseball with his son may also be worth a look. The photo resides at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in the Flip Schulke Photographic Archive. The photo presents a different, more intimate side of this noted historical figure—perhaps a more human side than the one with which we have grown accustomed. (Note: another copy of this image, sans watermarks, appears in this photo slideshow, also found in the center’s archive.)

Man Farts at Cat, from the He-Gassen Scrolls (Edo Period, 1603-1868)

Man Farts at Cat

If a picture conveys obliterates a thousand words, then all commentary must surely be superfluous. But He-Gassen? The title alone makes conversation blossom. Westerners vacillate between translations: scholars prefer “Fart Competition,” while laymen know it better as “Fart Battle.” Tomayto, tomahto. Slapstick has nothing to do with conduits—of transcription. And bathroom humor is anything but a modern-day development. Indeed/indubes, this funny business requires a timeless kind of sensibility. Take, for example, the exemplar artifact informally known as “Man Farts at Cat.” Force of image communicates punch line with immediacy, save only perhaps the brief delay of a flatulent sonic boom. Note, too, the absurdist’s craft in that effective use of negative space: those salient, linear flourishes of gaseous superpower rendered as dark spokes of malodorous shadow-light. Oh, how colorfully and deftly detailed this rather minimalist scene is executed. Wiki historians explain with scaffolds of context that the time of the Tokugawa was “characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, [and] popular enjoyment of arts and culture.” Visual gag, Japanese political cartoon with xenophobic edge, or undisputed masterwork—what eternal truths can “Man Farts at Cat” impart? Maybe none more than this: here lies in a paradox of preserved ephemera the still-lingering vitality of some anonymous artist who once laughed and passed his time away, thinking fondly of life in the Edo Period as nothing less than a real gas.

Baseball Book Review: John Klima’s The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII

If you are a Hank Greenberg admirer or simply a lover of baseball history, then you may want to check out my review of John Klima’s new book, The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII, now up on The Hardball Times: http://www.hardballtimes.com/a-look-at-the-game-must-go-on/.

Here’s an excerpt:

In his introduction, Klima cautions that The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII—published by Thomas Dunne Books earlier this year—is conceptualized with a “cohesive, narrative style” and thus is “not a textbook or a reference book” (ix, xii). However, Klima’s work is nothing short of exhaustively researched, as he draws from interviews, personal letters, and newspaper archives to breathe life into an intimately detailed tapestry rich with colorful, poignant exploits.

In as much, Klima’s sports journalism experiences (as well as his earlier books) lend a palpable authority to this history of wartime baseball and the heavy tolls that World War II wrought upon players, fans, the game, and the country. Despite what might otherwise be an almost overwhelming wealth of information, The Game manages to dexterously weave through the wartime sprawl of historical events and figures with apparent ease, as the reader follows three distinctive central characters whose lives are forever changed by war: Hank Greenberg, Billy Southworth Jr., and Pete Gray. . . .

Read the rest of the review here.

Flash (Card) Histories–Mr. Cub, et al.

Many thanks, again, to The Hardball Times for running this week’s Friday feature: http://www.hardballtimes.com/condensed-card-histories/. Ever hear about Ernie and the fortune-teller? Check this out for some entertaining baseball card histories on Ernie Banks, Curt Flood, and Harry Simpson.

Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub