One day, more than 76 years ago, the immortal Jackie Robinson and a lefty pitcher named Nate Moreland, my father’s older brother, got an opportunity to change the history of major league sports. Chicago White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes allowed the two to practice with his team during spring training in Pasadena in 1942, a full five years before Robinson would make his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Lots of people took credit for the session. My Uncle Nate said he requested the tryout. Dykes said he was curious to see what the two players could contribute to his squad. And Herman Hill, who was the West Coast editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, claims credit for setting it up.
“I took Jackie Robinson, just out of Pasadena Junior College and Nate Moreland, a good, young pitcher from the same school, over to the Chicago White Sox camp, then at Brookside Park in Pasadena to ask for a tryout,” Hill told Ebony in a 1970 article. “Jimmy Dykes, manager of the White Sox, had once praised Robinson and said he was worth $60,000 of anybody’s money.”
But those were turbulent times and it would be a full five years — after the end of World War II — before Robinson would integrate the Major Leagues. For his part, Dykes had nothing but praise for Robinson and Moreland, according to an account at the time. But Dykes had to turn both players away, as he felt that the White Sox organization would not allow the players to be a part of the franchise. Robinson was drafted into the Army later that year.
Moreland, on the other hand, made statements that probably ruined his chance to play in The Bigs.
“I can play baseball in Mexico where I don’t have to fight” in the war, he complained. “But in my country, I can’t play baseball, but I have to fight.”
In those days, Negro soldiers participated in the “Double-V” campaign during WWII, fighting for victory on the battlefields abroad, and victory among the civilians at home.
The integration of Robinson and other Black players onto Major League teams meant the ultimate death of what had been prosperous Negro Baseball Leagues full of barnstorming teams, all of which had many, many, all-star caliber players.
Meanwhile, 40 years later and a continent away, I met the legendary Queen Mother Audley Moore in Harlem. She told me that she had been approached, and served on a committee, “to get the first Black players into baseball.”
“That was when I was in my ‘Negro mind,'” she said. “If I had been in my right mind, I would have told that group that we should try to get the Black teams into baseball, not just the Black players.”
Each team supported a stadium, she pointed out, and vendors and various little industries supported the baseball fans. All that infrastructure was lost when Jackie Robinson put on the Dodgers #42.
“Jackie said the cities that he caught the most hell in were Chicago, St. Louis and Cincinnati,” according to Leon Forrest, a novelist and professor of African-American studies and English at Northwestern University who grew up in Chicago and was acquainted with the rowdy white gangs the Black players would certainly have encountered at their home field playing for the White Sox. Ironically, the White Sox could have used the Robinson and Moreland on their squad. They finished the 1942 season with a 66-82 record, sixth in the American League.
The Chicago White Sox could have ended the color barrier and could have changed their history at the same time that season. Instead, the status quo remained in place, as Jackie Robinson and Nate Moreland were sent away, and the glorious baseball Negro Leagues eventually disappeared as more and more Black players integrated the Major Leagues.