Astros And The African-American Ballplayer

Morgan, Jackson on '66 Cover
(c) Sports Illustrated
The Astros haven't made much news since the last report so this allows me a chance, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to discuss the ballclub's history with African-American players. For a team from deep in Texas, formerly a state in the Confederacy, the organization has had African-American players from the very beginning and continues to this day. Critics will argue they haven't had enough yet the same can be said of most Major League clubs.

Inner-city blacks have traditionally migrated towards basketball and football rather than baseball in large part because it takes fewer kids and less equipment to start a pick-up game in those sports than baseball which required a large plot of grass, a bat, a ball and four bases. Football requires just a plot of grass, a ball and something to represent a goal line. Basketball needs a hard surface, a hoop and a ball to be in business.

Those who have anointed themselves to be racial beancounters on the subject seem to distinguish between Hispanics with negroid features and American-born African-Americans, hence I am excluding players like Cesar Cedeno, Tony Eusebio, Julio Gotay and Willy Taveras from this discussion although I'd rather not.

Still, the Astros can compile a pretty awesome historical lineup of singularly Black American players:

2B - Joe Morgan
3B - Enos Cabell
CF - Jim Wynn
1B - Lee May
LF - Bob Watson
DH - George Springer
RF - Carl Everett
C - Hal King
SS - Sonny Jackson

SP - Don Wilson
RP - LaTroy Hawkins

There are plenty more to round out the bench or whose stay in Houston was too brief to consider. The appeal of black athletes to the game was primarily speed so most were outfielders or middle infielders. The game's historic black role models were largely outfielders and middle infielders with those slower of foot converting to first basemen.

Admittedly, coming up with an entirely black Houston pitching staff is difficult because black pitchers were scarce in the majors. It took an extraordinary talent like Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins or Mudcat Grant to fight through the stereotypes.

The Astros, like many clubs, support programs that encourage baseball fields and proper equipment so that inner-city youths of all races can learn and develop baseball skills. It's an important part of the team's community outreach. Developing athletic skills in at-risk youths gives them an alternative to crime, drugs and gangs.

Dr. King, in his famous 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech, said he longed for a day where people could be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Unfortunately, the leaders of today have turned that thinking on its head and judge people by race or racism (real or imagined) in almost knee-jerk fashion and demand others view everything through that prism.

For this week and the coming Black History Month, I would hope we could reflect on the hard-fought victories African-Americans have made since the 1960s through a lens of individual achievements and societal integration instead of inflammatory rhetoric and divisive race-baiting. As a culture, we achieve far more as one colorblind amalgam than as warring victims on a grievance ladder.

- Bob Hulsey