I’ve been relatively silent on the decision by Little League International to strip the 2014 World Championship from Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West squad, mainly because of the boiling rage the prospect has enkindled in my heart. The indispensable Dave Zirin manages to explain better than I ever could the heart of the problem: race and gentrification of cities like Chicago.
As for the decision itself, ironies abound. Jackie Robinson West was the first entirely black team to represent the United States in the Little League World Series. And yes, waiting until Black History Month to strip JRW of their title is at best tin-eared. But that insult shouldn’t blind us to the greater injury. Recall their damnable offense: Jackie Robinson West didn’t use 16-year ringers or cork their bats. They had players suit up who lived “beyond their geographical boundary”. The fact that the adults in charge of JRW felt the need to breach this rule perhaps has something to do with the fact that today’s urban landscape supports baseball about as well as concrete makes proper soil for orchids. A plurality of Major Leaguers is made up of people from either the US suburbs or the baseball factories of the Dominican Republic. Many of the few African American players on Major League rosters actually come from the suburbs. This is because 21st century neoliberal cities have gentrified urban black baseball to death. Boys and Girls Clubs have become bistros. Baseball fields are condos and in many cities, Little League is non-existent. The public funds for the infrastructure that baseball demands simply do not exist, but the land required for diamonds are the crown jewels of urban real estate. That’s what made JRW such a profound anomaly. In Chicago particularly, which under Mayor Rahm Emanuel has seen school closures and brutal cuts to physical education programs, their success made people believe that—with apologies to Tupac—flowers could in fact grow in concrete.
And the fact that these boys had a championship ripped away from them because of literally where they lived just has me seeing red.
I’m glad Zirin wrote this column. Give it a read.