George Omachi, Japanese Americans take up baseball in internment camps
Per the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans are placed in internment camps. As part of that executive order, teenager George Omachi and his family are taken by train from their home in California to Jerome War Relocation Center in Denson, Arkansas. After the Omachis arrived in Arkansas, George took part in camp baseball, becoming a player for the Denson All-Stars. “Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable. … It was humiliating, demeaning, being incarcerated in our own country.” He continued to play and coach baseball for several teams at several levels. In 1968, he began scouting in the MLB.
Jackie Robinson becomes the first Black player in Major League Baseball
“I am not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” says Robinson, who breaks the MLB color barrier when he takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers after executive Branch Rickey signs him to a historic contract. Robinson wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and two years he later he’s honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Robinson helps the Dodgers win six National League pennants and the 1955 World Series title. In 1962, Robinson becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Satchel Paige becomes first Negro League pitcher in Major League Baseball.
On his 42nd birthday, following an amazing career in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige made Major League Baseball (MLB) history becoming both the first Negro League pitcher in the American League and the oldest player to debut in the Major Leagues. Paige is one of baseball’s most prolific pitchers; having found success in both the Negro Leagues and MLB, he was also the first African-American pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roberto Clemente halts opening day
The Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to play the Houston Astros on April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and just one day before his burial. Out of respect, Roberto Clemente refused to play and his teammates also joined in their support to postpone opening day. While initially leaving the decision to each club, MLB Commissioner William Eckert followed suit and postponed all games until April 10th, the day after Dr. King’s burial.
The Detroit Tigers win the World Series a year after the Detroit Uprising
The city of Detroit celebrates the Tigers winning the world series a year after the 12th Street Uprising. On the night the uprising began Detroit Tiger Willie Horton took to the streets in his Tigers uniform to encourage peace.
Curt Flood & the advent of free agency
After the 1969 Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, a transaction the seven-time Gold Glover and 12-year major league veteran had no choice but to accept because of MLB’s Reserve Clause, which bound players to their club for as long as the team saw fit and allowed teams to trade or release players on a whim while affording players no freedom of movement. Flood, who had endured racism throughout his career and fought for racial justice off the field during the Civil Rights Movement, refused to play for the Phillies having put down roots in St. Louis, comparing the reserve clause to a form of slavery. On Christmas Eve, he wrote to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes…I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions.” After Kuhn denied his request, Flood sued Major League Baseball over the reserve clause, but ultimately, a 5-3 Supreme Court ruling in 1972 sided with baseball. Flood paid with his career, sitting out the 1970 season and playing only 13 games in 1971 with the Washington Senators. But his sacrifice opened the door for future players across sports. Inspired by Flood, MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller found two players – the Dodgers’ Andy Messersmith and Orioles’ Dave McNally – willing to play the 1975 season without a contract, and then attacked the reserve clause again, fighting for the player freedom Flood had tried to attain just a few years earlier. Arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed, and his landmark ruling paved the way for collectively bargained free agency as we now know it. “I doubt Curt or anyone – on or off the field in any sport — could fully contemplate the significance of the stance he took back in 1969,” current MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark told USA TODAY in 2019, “but as a child and student of the civil rights movement, Curt had a heightened sense of awareness about justice and fairness. The stand he took affected all athletes who have enjoyed free agency for the last half century.”
Frank Robinson Becomes first African-American manager in MLB
Frank Robinson debuts as first African-American manager in major leagues for the Cleveland Indians.
NFL’s Washington club announces retirement of racist team name and logo; MLB’s Cleveland club does the same.
Dozens of Native American groups, tribal nations, national tribal organizations, individuals and civil rights group have protested Washington’s 87-year-old team mascot and asked for its removal dating back more than a half-century. Washington owner Dan Snyder said he would never change the logo and team name – a racist slur toward Native Americans – but corporate pressure in 2020 forces him to retire them. Top team sponsor FedEx says it will terminate its stadium naming rights deal, worth an additional $45 million, if Snyder did not change the team name. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America, make similar demands. Since known as the Washington Football Team, the club on February 2, 2022 officially becomes the Washington Commanders. In 2018, MLB’s Cleveland club, facing similar backlash for its team name and mascot, announces it will retire its “Chief Wahoo” logo for the 2019 season, and in December 2020 says it will change the team’s nickname for the 2022 season. In July 2021, they reveal their new name, the Cleveland Guardians.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
Pitcher Yu Darvish, victim of racist gesture in World Series, speaks out against discrimination
In the spring of 2021, in an article Darvish says of rising anti-Asian racism, “In my opinion, underneath the skin we’re all the same. It doesn’t sit well with me. … [M]any people are suffering from (discrimination).” Darvish joined MLB in 2012 and has pitched in the league ever since. However, Darvish pointed out in an earlier conversation that successful Yankees pitcher and two-time All Star Masahiro Tanaka left MLB to return to play in Japan in part because of rising racism he and his family experienced. Darvish, the son of a Japanese mother and Iranian father, was the victim of a racist gesture during the 2017 World Series. As a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a player on the Houston Astros made an offensive and racist gesture toward Darvish.
Shohei Ohtani accomplishes rare MLB feat last seen 100 years ago
When Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ star pitcher and power hitter, takes the mound on April 27, he does so accomplishing something last done in 1921. Ohtani leads MLB in home runs entering the day, and no player has entered a game as the starting pitcher while leading the league in home runs since Babe Ruth. Two years earlier, the flame-throwing pitcher was the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, and during his 2018 AL Rookie of the Year season, he becomes the first player since Ruth with 50 innings pitched and at least 15 home runs.