Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Wearing the Uniform Thing..." Royals revisit a past blunder and Sam Mellinger calls them out for it. Maybe it's the Monarchs who should protest

Do you ever wonder why beat reporters tend to avoid the tough negative story? They do, by the way. Not every beat reporter and not every time. But beat reporters have two strong reasons to issue a street parole to a tough story.

1) They like the beat and they want to keep it. And it took them years to learn this beat. They have an investment. Here they get the "backing" of the news organization in which the editor tells the beat reporter, "Hey, if they freeze you out we'll put someone else on this beat and you can have another one." Gee, thanks for having my back.

2) They know if they write the tough story -- or if somebody else sneaks onto their turf and writes it -- they'll spend hours listening to the PR flacks "explain" why they're wrong. And, I do mean hours. It's kind of like buying a car. More like an old fashioned root canal.

So, when Sam Mellinger called out the Royals yesterday for the huge public relations blunder of not being willing to spend 20 grand on Negro League uniforms for Negro League day, I wanted to cheer and at the same time offer condolences. In fact, Mellinger wrote two tough columns about the Royals this week. Double trouble.

A Royals spokesman was interviewed this morning on one of the local talk shows. When I heard him say something like, "Last night we explained to Sam what we were doing ..." I knew he'd gotten the business. Then the spokesman tried to give the listeners the business by saying it wasn't about the money at all, it was -- company line -- about "doing something different."

No uniforms and no hats. That's different. Like the difference between grilled rainbow trout at the Bristol and Filet-O-Fish at McDonalds.

I wrote recently about the ocean of bullshit we're navigating in this life and Mellinger was the butt end of my tirade. Well, this week he's produced two no-bullshit columns and he deserves a pat on the back from his readers. The Royals, meanwhile, deserve a kick in the pants.

I've just started Phil Dixon's book on Bullet Joe Rogan. I can tell already it's going to be an excellent read. The point Dixon makes early on is how the local newspapers -- the white local newspapers -- managed to keep their readers ignorant about the existence of this Hall of Famer in their own back yard simply because he was black. The Kansas City Star, Mellinger's newspaper, was instrumental in this, all but ignoring black baseball in this city throughout the Negro Leagues' heyday.

This is not a small thing. Ignoring black baseball went hand-in-hand with ignoring the student scientists from black high schools who consistently won science competitions here. Ignoring the success of a people is an excellent way to force them to the margins, to keep them in their place, to break their spirit and to make white folks happily unaware in their cocoon of superiority.

Thank god for the Kansas City Call.

The Star played a role in racism in Kansas City. Mellinger, whether he knew it or not, wrote a fine column to undo just a little bit of the shame that entails. And it is the Royals who now wear the burden of shunning a community of Kansas Citians they should be desperately courting. They need to face facts: They are not -- by any stretch -- the best professional team to wear this city's colors.

But the PR machine will prattle on about "doing something different." And they may well have told Sam Mellinger last night something close to what they told Joe Posnanski nine years ago when they tried the same stunt. Posnanski recalled that conversation on his blog today. A PR guy told him he was unaware of the importance of the "wearing the uniform thing."

Doesn't that just grind your teeth.

Because, the "wearing the uniform thing" is exactly the point of recognizing the Negro Leagues at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star, Kansas City Kansan and Major and Minor League Baseball made the Negro Leagues as invisible as they possibly could just as those in power made black and Latino communities as invisible as they could by building freeways through the middle of those neighborhoods and suburb upon suburb fading away from those neighborhoods. Interstate 35 isn't just a road to somewhere. It's a road that cut up neighborhoods, hid poverty and racism from commuters and provided an escape route to whiter and whiter cul-de-sacs farther and farther away.

You did notice where they built Kauffman Stadium, didn't you?

Wearing the uniforms is nothing less than recognizing the grace and power of those big league teams. Modern players dressed in Monarch's uniforms give those in the stands and legions of viewers a brief glimpse of a great league of baseball their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers may well have missed. And they provide a critical connection for African Americans between the modern game and the game of their fathers and grandfathers, a connection which is otherwise invisible.

The "wearing the uniform thing", dammit, is the point.

If, nine years later they told another reporter they weren't aware of how important the uniforms are, good god they should have been aware. But, then again, they drafted Luke "Three-And-Two-Thirds" Hocheaver number one and they sent Kyle Davies out to the mound a few days ago on the way to his eighth loss against one victory. Maybe they shouldn't be held to such a high standard after all.

Heck, maybe it should be the Monarchs who protest if the Royals deign to wear their uniforms in public. I'm not sure, at this point, it does much for their storied image.


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