Craig Calcaterra

FILE - In this April 11, 1947 file photo, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers poses at Ebbets Field in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Robinson's widow said Major League Baseball has yet to fully honor her husband's legacy. "There is a lot more that needs to be done and that can be done in terms of the hiring, the promotion" of minorities in the sport, Rachel Robinson said Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 during a Q&A session with TV critics about "Jackie Robinson," a two-part PBS documentary airing in April.  (AP Photo/John Rooney, File)

Jackie Robinson: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag”

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One more bit of baseball via which we may reflect on the Colin Kaepernick controversy.

In 1972 Jackie Robinson wrote his autobiography. In it he reflected on how he felt about his historical legacy as a baseball player, a businessman and as a political activist. A political activism, it should be noted, which favored both sides of the aisle at various times. He supported Nixon in 1960, supported the war in Vietnam and worked for Nelson Rockefeller. He did not support Goldwater and did support the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He supported Humphrey against Nixon in 1968. He was no blind partisan or ideologue. When you find someone like that you can usually rest assured it’s because they’re thinking hard and thinking critically in a world where things aren’t always cut-and-dried.

As such, this statement from his autobiography, describing his memory of the first game of the 1947 World Series, is worth thinking about. Because it came from someone who spent a lot of time thinking:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.

Colin Kaepernick is not Jackie Robinson and America in 2016 is not the same as America in 1919, 1947 or 1972. But it does not take one of Jackie Robinson’s stature or experience to see and take issue with injustice and inequality which manifestly still exists.

As I said in the earlier post, the First Amendment gives us just as much right to criticize Kaepernick as it gives him a right to protest in the manner in which he chooses. But if and when we do, we should not consider his case in a vacuum or criticize him as some singular or radical actor. Because some other people — people who have been elevated to a level which has largely immunized them from criticism — felt and feel the same way he does. It’s worth asking yourself, if you take issue, whether you take issue with the message or the messenger and why. Such inquiries might complicate one’s feelings on the matter, but they’re quite illuminative as well.

(thanks to Kokujin for the heads up)

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is a sports owner once again

File photo of Frank McCourt leaving Stanley Mosk Courthouse after testifying during his divorce trial in Los Angeles
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There aren’t many major league ownership reigns which ended more ignominiously than Frank McCourt’s reign as Dodgers owner. He was granted access to one of business’ most exclusive clubs — one which being a convicted criminal or even a Nazi sympathizer cannot get you kicked out of — and somehow got kicked out. The clear lesson from his saga was that saddling your team with debt, using it as your own private piggy bank and exercising bad judgment at every possible turn will not get you drummed out of baseball but, by gum, having it all go public in a divorce case sure as heck will.

McCourt landed pretty safely, though. By sheer luck, his being kicked out of ownership coincided with the vast appreciation of major league franchise values and the expiration of the Dodgers cable television deal. He may have left in disgrace, but he also left with a couple of billion dollars thanks to the genius of capitalism. At the time it was assumed he’d ride off into the sunset, continuing to make a mint off of parking at Dodgers games (he retained a big piece of that pie) and not get his hands messy with sports ownership again.

Such assumptions were inoperative:

The soccer club has suffered from poor financial decisions in recent years. So I guess it was a match made in heaven.

Thank Goodness! The Yankees may finally be profitable!

Yankee Stadium
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The bones of this story from the New York Post are all well and good: the Yankees are refinancing $1 billion in debt they still owe on Yankee Stadium, taking advantage of lower interest rates and, in all likelihood, saving them perhaps $10 million a year. That’s good for any business, obviously.

The framing of it all is pretty hilarious, though:

Yankees team owner Hal Steinbrenner is making a new pitch to return the team to profitability . . . Shaving perhaps as much as $10 million annually from the stadium loans could make the team profitable, said a source familiar with the team’s finances.

Baseball finances are notoriously opaque. Most teams are 100% privately owned and many of them, the Yankees included, are still family owned. While they’re big businesses on a big stage with TV and famous employees and all of that, the model is still roughly that of a car dealership. You don’t know what Biff Hopkins of Biff Hopkins Chevrolet makes or what his company’s balance sheet looks like exactly, but you know his spoiled punk kid has a brand new Corvette, Biff owns a lake house and they’re the richest dadgum family in this here county.

The same with the Yankees. It’s laughable in the extreme to suggest that the Yankees are losing money or just about breaking even. They may say that themselves when it suits them to portray themselves in that fashion, but it takes a lot of magical thinking to accept it at face value. This is illustrated six paragraphs later by this passage, which negates the entire framework of the piece:

The Yanks are roughly breaking even now. That’s just the team and doesn’t include other businesses, such as the YES Network or Legends Hospitality.

You know, the other businesses owned by the same people, making money directly off of the allegedly breaking-even baseball team but categorized in certain ways for certain purposes.

Among the purposes, as the article makes clear, is to structure stadium financing in super convoluted way so as to allow the city to issue bonds for what is, essentially, a money-printing operation for one of sports’ richest franchises.

Oh, I’m sorry. For that plucky little small business in the Bronx, just trying to make ends meet so it can stay family-owned for another 43 years.