Hey, Oil Can: Jackie Didn’t Kill the Negro Leagues, “Integration” Did–Along with Much of Black America

Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd always had balls. Even when he wasn’t on crack. The former Boston Red Sox pitcher was one of the game’s most “colorful” figures–and that was before he revealed in his new book that he smoked cocaine before games and once ran “right down the street to the crack house” upon hearing that he would not be starting in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Today, Boyd is sober but still throwing ’em high and hard. His latest brushback, revealed today in the Boston Globe, is aimed at American icon Jackie Robinson. Boyd essentially blames Robinson for the demise of the Negro Leagues, which Boyd laments.

Asked by ESPN’s Buster Olney what he might say to Jackie Robinson if he were to meet him in the afterlife, Boyd kicked high and let it fly. “I’m not real thankful to Jackie at all because I’m me – my style of baseball, the way I played it in the major league transpired from the Negro leagues,” he said. “So that’s why people found that I was a hot dog or I was flamboyant.”

Interesting thought. And in truth, this is not the first time I heard it expressed–although others don’t single out Jackie. Many owners and players and others led to the “demise” of the Negro Leagues, which ultimately fell as Major League Baseball, which had barred black players, began signing the most talented Negro players, one-by-one, team-by-team.

Negro America cheered the most. Finally!, we roared (or our parents, did.) Indeed the Brooklyn (soon to be Los Angeles) Dodgers, which signed Robinson, became Negro America’s team. My folks almost disowned me when I chose the St. Louis Cardinals as my team of choice–in large part because of its three Negro stars, Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.

The real, hard truth is the Negro Leagues befell the same fate as many other black institutions from America’s era of segregation–from major insurance corporations to local black-owned grocery stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Many slowly disappeared as integration began to unfold, as barriers fell in schools, on buses, in restaurants, in department stores.

My hometown, Tulsa, Okla., is known as the place where “Black Wall Street” thrived throughout much of the 20th Century. It was a bastion of Negro commerce (we even owned the bus system) with nearly 200 Negro-owned businesses, including by dad’s store, Kyle’s Sundry.

It was created because whites in the area when the railroad was being built erroneously believed land hard by the tracks wouldn’t be very valuable, so they forced blacks to stay “on the other side” of the tracks. Greenwood Avenue, the 125th Street of “Black Wall Street,” ended to the south at the tracks and was the primary thoroughfare for the myriad Negro enterprises that sprang forth.

When I was a young child, Negros were not allowed to cross the tracks without good reason. Yeah, they could shop at some of the major department stores, but I distinctly remember my mother being forced to put tissues in a hat before trying it on–something white shoppers did not have to do.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the culmination of an effort to end segregation nationwide, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, essentially spelled the death knell for “Black Wall Street” and other Negro institutions.

Instead of going to Betty’s Chat & Chew for Sunday dinner, we went to the Piccadilly cafeteria downtown.

Instead of going to a movie at the Rex Theater, we went to theater that had once been “whites only.”

And we cheered for Negro players across baseball’s major leagues.

Jackie Robinson didn’t kill the Negro Leagues any more than Martin Luther King, Jr. killed “Black Wall Street.”

But still, it’s sad that they are gone.

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One thought on “Hey, Oil Can: Jackie Didn’t Kill the Negro Leagues, “Integration” Did–Along with Much of Black America

  1. spencer a says:

    i think this book is a must read because boyd is talking about the real facts as to what went down with the negro leage. so i must get a copy and hope to meet the oil can one day.

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