Friday, February 21, 2014

Werber blasted Rickey for Robinson signing

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

The signing of Jackie Robinson to a Montreal contract in 1945 created, as every baseball historian knows, a furor. 

By and large, however, the ballplayers themselves kept their opinions out of the public press. Having hung up his spikes three years earlier, however, former major league infielder Bill Werber, then selling insurance in Washington, D.C., felt no such compunction and rose in defense of the honor of Southern ballplayers.

In a letter to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, Werber reproved Rickey’s son, who was in charge of Brooklyn’s minor league farm system, for a comment he was reported to have made in answer to a suggestion that some Southern players might quit the Dodgers' organization over Robinson’s signing. 

Rickey. Jr., was quoted as saying, “If they come from certain sections in the South, they may steer away from a team with colored players. But they’ll be back in baseball after a year or two in the cotton mills.”

In his letter to the senior Rickey, Werber called that statement “a definite insult to every southern boy.”

Werber wrote, “A large segment of the ball players who have in the past, and who are presently contributing to the continued success of major league baseball, are of southern ancestry, or actually live in the South.” (In fact, a survey of big league rosters at the start of the 1945 season showed that about 27% had been born below the Mason-Dixon line.)

“Your effort to force them to accept socially and to play with a Negro or Negroes, is highly distasteful,” Werber continued. “You are, in fact, for some unaccountable reason, discriminating against the majority.”

Werber added, “the attitude that your son has assumed is certainly not conducive to the morale of your own organization, nor to baseball in general.” 

Werber was born in Berwyn , Md., and attended college at Duke before turning to pro ball in 1930. He played very briefly with the Yankees in 1930 and 1933. He was sold to the Red Sox in 1933 and traded to the Athletics after the 1936 season. Prior to the 1939 season he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, who sold him to the Giants after the 1941 season. 

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