Hamilton proud after Obama's election
Former player, now MLB official, amazed at country's progress
Watching the election returns on Tuesday night, Darryl Hamilton, former Major League outfielder, now Major League Baseball's senior specialist for on-field operations, received a text message from his brother:
The text message was terse and to the point. It said: "1619."
"I don't know if he was testing me or what," Hamilton said. "I sent him back a text that said: 'That's when the first slaves came to this country. And now we have a real African-American president.'"
Sixty-one years after baseball broke the racial barrier with the arrival of Jackie Robinson, an entire nation broke the larger racial barrier, with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America.
Regardless of partisan affiliation, there can be unanimous American agreement that this is a momentous event, a breakthrough of epic proportions, in American politics, in American culture, in the fundamental nature of American society.
Baseball, because of Jackie Robinson, has always been conscious of its place in the struggle for civil rights. Many African-American players have a keen sense of the game's place in America's history. Darryl Hamilton played for 14 seasons and had a lifetime average of .291, and he was a fine defensive outfielder, but in this context, you think of him also as an African-American man whose father taught black history in a Baton Rouge, La., high school. Tuesday night, when Virginia, once the place that was home to the capital of the Confederacy, went for Obama, Hamilton called his father to share that moment with him.
"I shed a few tears last night," Hamilton said. "It is just amazing how far our country has come. We've still got a ways to go, but this is amazing. All Americans should be proud."
It is amazing. In the larger scheme of things it was not that long ago that the notion of an African-American simply playing Major League Baseball was out of the question. It was a game played by Caucasians, period. Jackie Robinson changed that, and shortly after his arrival, Larry Doby changed that in the American League. But even then, a generation of African-American players, including greats of the game such as Frank Robinson and Henry Aaron, suffered through the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow, starting every time they showed up for Spring Training.
Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson's widow, said in an interview with Newhouse News Service that Obama and her late husband shared the quality of not caving in to pressure no matter how extreme that pressure was.
"Men like that put themselves in those positions," Rachel Robinson said. "They want to do something, they want to create change. I always felt (Jackie) could stand up, and I never felt he would wilt under (the abuse) or be unable to manage it."
Jackie Robinson died in 1972. Rachel Robinson said that while at the time there was no hope of a person of color being elected president, she wishes that her husband had lived to see Obama's election.
"He would have felt vindicated in some ways," Rachel Robinson said. "He always said young people were capable of doing more than they were permitted to do. He would have been so proud and so excited, and I'm sure he would have been as active in the process as he could have been." Jackie Robinson's legacy has been important to African-American players, not only because of the opportunity that it afforded them, but because of what it symbolized for American society.
"When I was playing, there was a type of pride African-American players had for each other," Hamilton said. "It wasn't anything like a competition. We knew that this was a game that not that long ago we hadn't been allowed to play. We felt pride in each other that was something special."
Now, the larger society has provided another source of pride. Again, regardless of political affiliation, that pride can be felt not only by African-Americans, but by all Americans, for a society that has demonstrated that its constitutional promise of equality is more than rhetoric, but is now reality. In that regard, the truly gracious and inclusive concession speech delivered on Tuesday night by Sen. John McCain was precisely what this historic moment required.
"I appreciated the speech that Senator McCain gave last night," Hamilton said. "That was important. In elections, one side wins and one side loses, and there can be hard feelings. But the future is where we want to go. Holding on to animosity is not going to get us there."
And now the immediate American future includes the first African-American president. "I thought it was going to be my son, Donovan," Hamilton said with a laugh. "But Obama won, so we'll let it fly."
Donovan is seven years old. He would be eligible for the presidency in the 2036 election. Where once Jackie Robinson made it possible for future generations of African-Americans to be part of the national pastime, Barack Obama has now opened the larger door for generations to come. The hopes, the dreams, the achievements of the American Republic have just been expanded.
Rachel Robinson, in the interview with Newhouse News Service, said that while she had not met the president-elect, she someday hoped to share with him a favorite saying of her husband that is written on Jackie Robinson's tombstone.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.