From 1876, the year the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs was founded, until the present day, everything that has occurred in the United States has been reflected in and around the game of baseball.
Enjoy these selected American Innings’ vignettes, short episodes on significant parallels between major American stories and major league baseball.
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The United States welcomed many people from Europe in the early 1900s. Some of the sons of these hard-working immigrant families became baseball players, even when their parents did not quite understand the game. Joey Amalfitano was the son of an Italian immigrant who came to this country by himself at the age of 16. After a stop at Ellis Island, he took a train west and began work as a commercial fisherman in San Pedro. Amalfitano, a bonus baby signee of the New York Giants in 1954, tells us about his Italian families’ move to America and how his father reacted when he signed his first baseball contract.
The 1960’s were a decade of turmoil and social unrest in the country’s major urban areas. When Detroit erupted in riots in 1967 the Tiger players were told to go home for their own safety. Instead, baseball icon Willie Horton, still wearing his uniform, plunged into the smoldering Detroit community, to play a crucial role in restoring peace and harmony to that torn city. Willie went to the streets near where he was raised in the projects, reasoning with people to stop the burning. Here he tells about how baseball brought black and white people together to heal the city, as they went through a winning season together. During his 18 year career, Willie’s commitment to the community made him more than a ball player. Today a statue stands in his honor, and he is one of only four people to have a state holiday named after him, an honor he shares with civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.
Rick Monday on Saving the American Flag
Rick Monday, a Chicago Cubs outfielder, was playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the turbulent decade of the 1970s when two protesters ran from the stands on to the field with an American flag and a big can of lighter fluid. Seeing their attempt to set the flag on fire, Rick ran over, swooped down and grabbed the flag before it could be ignited. As a former Marine, he did what came instinctively. He became known as a hero, illustrating one of many strong connections between baseball and the military. The Dodgers later presented Rick with that very flag in an on-field ceremony honoring him at his home stadium in Chicago.
Willie McCovey on Racism and Baseball After Jackie Robinson’s Debut
Despite Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947, black players continued to face harsh racism. But after World War II, Americans began to question the laws of segregation, wondering why African Americans could fight and die for their country but their children had to attend segregated schools. In this vignette, Willie McCovey brings us back to the 1950s and the example Jackie Robinson was to him as he shares his experience of being a young African American traveling in the south as a minor league player.
Joe Garagiola on Signing with the Hometown Team
Before the major league draft was instituted in 1965, players often signed their first major league contract with their home team because of their love for the players they watched growing up. Born in an Italian neighborhood in St. Louis, Joe Garagiola explains life growing up in in the 1940s and the players he idolized as a kid that led him to sign with the hometown Cardinals.