The Year Cool Papa Bell Lost the Batting Title

An act of selfless sportsmanship drew scholars Anthony Pratkanis and Marlene Turner to title their article on how African-Americans broke into major league baseball after “the headiest and fastest base runner of his or any other time.”
With the opening of the baseball season, it is time to reflect on the current meaning of April 15, when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball.
Like most sagas of black history, there are many unsung heroes behind the marquee.
Pratkanis and Turner, faculty at UC-Santa Cruz, wrote Chapters 22 and 23 in Volume Two of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vol. 2, 1900-1950.
They subtitled the article “Mr Branch Rickey and Mr. Jackie Robinson’s Plea for Affirmative Action” in a presentation originally presented at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Fifth Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture in June 1993.
Of James “Cool Papa” Bell, they wrote “In 1933 (his best season), he stole 175 bases in 180 or so games with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He would often score from first base on a single or reach third on a sacrifice. In his 29 seasons, Bell compiled a .339 lifetime batting average in the Negro Major Leagues. (He hit .392 against white pitching in 54 exhibition games and stole 15 bases in the 35 games where records were kept.)
Thirteen years later, Bell was hitting .411 and leading the race for the batting title once again. Trailing him was Monte Irvin.
Pratkanis and Turner report that Bell pulled himself out of the lineup so he wouldn’t have enough at bats to qualify. When asked why, Bell said he wanted to give the younger Irvin the opportunity to be noticed when major league baseball began recruiting black players.
Irvin was to become the first black player with the New York (now San Francisco) Giants and ultimately an executive with major league baseball.
As sociologists, they explore further why Bell would make such a sacrifice. They consider the effort of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson “the first, largely successful affirmative action program in human history.”
This article has bearing far beyond baseball. In education, employment and enterpreneurship, unspoken barriers like major league baseball’s ban on black players still exist.
“When Mr. Rickey hired Jackie Robinson, he introduced a new strategy of affirmative action or the proactive removal of discriminatory barriers and the promotion of institutions leading to integration of in- and out-groups.”
This scholarship has bearing for today’s managers. The Rickey-Robinson strategy worked and dramatically expanded the overall market for baseball.
However, enemies of inclusion have stigmatized such initiatives with misleading arguments.
Eradicating today’s disparities will require a new view of how to mount such strategies.
The following chapter “Nine Principles of Successful Affirmative Action” defines how to carry out real inclusion.
To read the complete chapters, one can order volume two of Our Roots Run Deep.