Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #7: Master and Mentor

In Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, author James S. Hirsch states that, while Babe Ruth may have been baseball's "most dominant player," Willie Mays was "its greatest master." Hirsch makes this assertion based upon Mays being a complete player who excelled at everything. I'm guessing some former Topps copywriter (or editor, or whoever was responsible) felt the same back in the day. We're 7 days away from the release of 2016 Topps baseball!

You would have to have a massive set of cojones to try to get away with picturing a black man with a white man in 2016 and have the word 'Master' written above them. And please excuse my implied profanity, but it would be an act truly deserving of a 'WTF.' But this card wasn't produced and distributed in 2016, but 56 years ago, when Jim Crowe laws were still enforced in much of the country and blacks were often denied the right to vote.

Now, I know what the reference is on the top of the card. After all, there has arguably been no other player as well-rounded at the game of baseball than Willie Howard Mays, Jr. Perhaps the inclusion of 'Master' was an oversight; or perhaps it's a case of indifference. Please excuse me if I'm being redundant, but I can't help but think how racially insensitive this card is and (I say this next part half tongue-in-cheek) am surprised Topps hasn't begun buying them up to rid themselves of the embarrassment.

Anyway, things weren't always as rosy between Mays and Rigney as they appear on the front of the '60 Topps card. Their relationship was a strained one early in Rigney's tenure as manager, but would improve over the years. However... the smiles wouldn't last long after this set hit the street as Rigney would be fired only 58 games into the season, with the Giants only 4 games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates. The team that had been the favorite to win the pennant heading into the 1960 season stumbled terribly, finishing in 5th place and 16 games out of first. Rigney's replacement, the unqualified Tom Sheehan, would get the ax following the season.

Despite Sheehan's failures as a manager (and there were many), most of the blame for the team's troubles would be placed on its black players. And it had nothing to do with performance, but rather the number of Negroes on the team. The Sporting News brought the matter to light in an article in which its sources stated that the problem "most frequently mentioned as the cause of the Giants' downfall [was] too many Negro players." Sports Illustrated ran the same type of story, printing "there are several dozen players, coaches, managers, writers and executives who will tell you what is really wrong with the Giants: too many Negroes." At least the magazine rejected such lunacy (unlike the Sporting News), pointing out that it was a lack of leadership that doomed the team and that it was whites who bore that responsibility. "The best ballplayers on the club are Negroes, yet the Negroes, even if they chose to, could not lead because the whites would refuse to follow."

Thank God the cartoon at the bottom of the backside of the card didn't include some Jim Crowe cartoon character representing Mays. That would truly be an embarrassment.

1 comment:

  1. As dumb as mouth those articles sounds I still hear the same dumb shit from people today. Maybe not in the same words but the same ideas. Crazy it's only a week away!