Harrisburg Martin Luther King Event Looks at the Integration of Baseball
Web Editor - Published: January 31, 2013

“I seldom refer to it as integration – I normally refer to it as breaking the color barrier,” said Distinguished Professor Michael J. Cozzillio of Jackie Robinson signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as he spoke to students, faculty, and staff on the Harrisburg campus on Tuesday, January 29th.

The presentation on the integration of baseball served as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration. Based on a previous presentation, Cozzillio’s remarks focused on the impact that the breaking of the color barrier had on the Negro Leagues, and examined whether or not a merger or expansion between Major League baseball and the Negro Leagues might have offered a better path to full integration while curtailing the adverse impact on the Negro Leagues and their players.

In addition to discussing the piecemeal integration of Major League baseball that began with Robinson in 1947, Cozzillio offered an overview of the Negro Leagues, noting that there were several different leagues and acknowledging that such a scattered nature presented difficulties. He cited the lack of financial stability and in some cases the presence of money earned through illegitimate means as other factors.

“This wasn’t anything rigid or structured,” he said, adding, “Many, many problems plagued the Negro Leagues. There was an absence of leadership certainly.”

Despite such problems, however, there were clearly talented players in the Negro Leagues, and far more of them were likely capable of playing in the Major Leagues then were signed. The piecemeal integration that began with the signing of Robinson had a deleterious impact on the careers of those players that might have been mitigated if Major League Baseball had explored a merger or expansion with the Negro Leagues similar to successful mergers or expansions that occurred in football or basketball.

According to Cozzillio, the problem with the piecemeal integration that followed in the wake of Robinson’s signing is that “It seduces and abandons the target.” The Negro Leagues and many players were left to suffer in a strange sort of limbo.

“What could we have done differently? How could we make the integration of Major League Baseball more meaningful?” he asked rhetorically before noting that as early as 1933, the notion of two all-black teams – an American League team in Boston and a National League team in Cincinnati – had been explored.

The successful AFL-NFL merger and the NBA’s expansion with four teams from the ABA offer a precedent that suggests a similar scheme could have benefited both Major League Baseball and Negro League players, and Cozzillio noted that such a merger or assimilation would have brought “From the top down, a much more meaningful infusion of black players, management, and entrepreneurs.”

“Socially, we might not have been prepared for that,” he said in his concluding remarks, but he countered, “We can have both. We can have integration, and we can have independence and fierce pride. When we polarize the issue, we eliminate the possibility.”

Professor Cozzillio’s presentation was based upon research that he is working on with Delaware campus Professor Robert L. Hayman, Jr. that they hope to present at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

In the accompanying video, Professor Cozzillio talks about the inspiration for the project and what he hopes people can take away.