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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

One Man Who Gave Politics a Good Name


There's a hit new movie this spring, "42," the story of how in 1947 Jack Roosevelt Robinson made baseball history and American history by breaking the color barrier to become a Brooklyn Dodger and the first black man to play in the Major Leagues.

It is also the story of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, who in his lonely commitment to desegregate baseball, chose Robinson, a star in four sports — football, basketball, track and baseball — at UCLA before entering the Army and being commissioned a second lieutenant. Rickey believed, rightly, that Jackie Robinson had the courageous self-discipline required to endure the hate, hostility and isolation that awaited him in the grandstands, locker rooms, restaurants and hotels of pre-civil-rights America.

But one American hero gets short shrift in this good new movie. His name: Albert B. "Happy" Chandler. A native of Corydon, Ky., veteran of World War I and a graduate of his home state university's law school, he was a rising political star — a state senator at 32, lieutenant governor at 33, governor at 37 and U.S. senator at 41.

Happy Chandler left the U.S. Senate in 1945, when the owners of the then-16 Major League teams elected him to be commissioner of baseball. The game had been lily-white for eight decades, and when the owners later met for two hours in secret at New York's Waldorf Astoria to deal with Branch Rickey's unwelcome push to integrate the game, they voted 15-1 against Rickey and for continued racial segregation. Nobody much expected Chandler, a self-described "Confederate" who had governed a state where the races were by law separated, to rock the boat.

But that is exactly what the commissioner did. As he later explained his decision to overturn the owners' vote and allow Jackie Robinson to play for Brooklyn, "I'd have to meet my Maker some day, and if He asked me why I didn't let this boy play, and I said, 'Because he was black,' that might not be a satisfactory answer." Chandler went on: "I just decided it (excluding African-Americans from the sport) wasn't just. It wasn't decent. It wasn't fair, and I was going to end it."

Of Jackie Robinson, Chandler said: "He had a chip on his shoulder, and I don't blame him for that because he thought everybody was against him, and nearly everybody was."

How good a politician was Happy Chandler? In American history, there have been nine different governors who, when presented with a vacant U.S. Senate seat to be filled, have gone through the scripted ritual of resigning as governor in order to have the "new" governor then appoint him (all nine were men) to the U.S. Senate. Not surprisingly, voters dislike this charade, and eight of the nine governors who arranged their own Senate appointments have been defeated in the next election. The only exception: Gov. Happy Chandler, who in 1939 effectively had himself appointed to the Senate and went on to win Kentucky Senate elections in 1940 and 1942.

So Chandler understood the risk he was taking by ignoring the owners and by welcoming Jackie Robinson to baseball. He was fired by the owners in 1950, but Don Newcombe, the great Dodgers pitcher, would speak eloquently of when Chandler had stood up for blacks, including Robinson, Roy Campanella and himself: "Happy Chandler cared when it wasn't fashionable to give a damn about black baseball players."

How about that, sports fans? A successful politician who was a genuine American hero.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators webpage at




2 Comments | Post Comment
Urban sports legend has it that Don Newcombe pitched best angry. So Roy Campanella, some say the best catcher in the history of the game, would call him the n-word to fire him up whenever he found the great pitcher becoming lethargic. I don't usually prefer your sports essays, Mark, but the Brooklyn Dodgers always makes a great story.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mike Ohr
Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:28 AM
Sir;...When I was young I heard my father talking about going to Pittsburg as a child, and seeing young adult black men with straight edge razors protruding from their hip pockets... And, he concluded the story by saying: I bet no white man ever called them a nikker...That is when I started carrying a razor; an Occam Double Duck...But respect, man to man is only a part of the issue... People being nice to people is one thing, and carrying that respect through ones social and political life is another...
So much of what has gone on between the races has been institutionalized racism, but the solution is not alone institutionalized... You can desegregate colleges, for example, and with affirmative action try to force the issue, force people to get to know others as people, relate, sympathize, forgive others the fault of being born different, with different cultures, and colors; but those cultures are intractable, not exactly natural, grown in an atmosphere of defense and offense, and unlikely to change without good cause...
That black youth in college may find himself in the company of whites better educated culturally, because culturally, it is expected, and encouraged, and because the support network of already educated family and friends are everywhere in evidence... I have met white and blacks from big cities who never learned to drive... Put behind the wheel they might be like Woody Allan in Annie Hall; but the expecation that such a person would know how to change a tire because everybody does would be unconscious discrimination...
There are many jobs that I can do for myself as a home owner that necessity and friends have taught me to do, like wiring a circuit, or installing a switch, or a whole electrical system, if necessary that I would never have learned as a renter... To take a renter out of an apartment, and put him in a house does not make him my equal as a home owner... And it did not happen over night, and if every incidental expense of being a home owner were tacked onto the expense of mortgage, utilities, and taxes; my house would have been de-sweeneyed long ago... You can get through the bigger part of your life and hold your pitiful savings in one hand and cast you eyes over your entire estate with a glance and consider what a close run affair it was all along...
In America we have had people without the stink of slavery and segragation about them... Some people who went through slavery always knew they were free men in bondage... People came to this land after slavery was ended, and passed that sense of pride and freedom and equality onto their children... The children of black soldiers during the Civil War, and American soldiers in WWI, WWII, and Korea were like their fathers: Proud, free, and dangerous -as all free people should be...There was a, and I mean, one black ironworker that my father worked with in his youth, and people out of respect called him a Blackfoot Indian...Yet, that was their pride at work too, for not one of them would work with a black man... In my age, black men were more common in the trades... I saw many who were lackluster, many who self destructed, and many who were fine, able, intelligent, strutting peacock roosters of ironworkers as are we all...
In 2007, I drove with one of my daughters to Detroit to honor Rosa Parks... My life time is a yardstick for change...There was not much left of her, but in their day, such people touched me... And when you think of how much need there is for intelligent people, for answers to unasked questions, and on the other side, how much need there is for opportunity for the ambitions of the poor; why it is that such barriors are erected between us???...
The society with unfulfilled people is an unfulfilled society... And to tolerate the situation as it is, is not human, and is insensible... Human intelligence and creativity find expression morally, or immorally, legally, or criminally...And on the other hand, the society that can leave a Jackie Robbinson in a second class league while lesser men triumph is a profound institutional wrong; and what if our national defense depended upon a better man who never got a chance??? That game of what if, is not played in futility... We can easily see what is going wrong in our society, and what is going right... If you tell me that letting a qualified person who may be black into a good college excludes another qualified person who may be white from an education; then something is wrong...
If I grant that the institution cost something, the books the buildings the infrastructure, then most of that should also be long ago paid for... And human knowledge that only slowly increases is also mostly bought and paid for...What are people buying besides haste??? Testing; teachers, cutting edge research; yes, but mostly learning at breakneck speed to give people the longest period of productive use...
My education is defective, but it was mostly free... And it was slow because I am retarded... I have learning disabilities in spite of testing with a near genius IQ... Even when I was being paid to do as a beast of burden, I was learning, and it was only by relating facts to facts, and finally, by learning how to learn that I could begin to learn at a decent rate...
I can sympathize with people who are not raised to education, who are not raised by the educated to aspire to education...I wish I could say as so many black people can that I was faced with a culture and institutions that were as much designed to hold them down as to keep a white person above... But my culture taught me that I had no excuse, not with personal impediments, nor right to preference; and not my family nor my religion taught me that I was a better human being by virtue of race than any other...
Patience is a virtue, but blacks have waited too long for equality to be patient... Whites denied because of the demands of equality should be asking why there is not more opportunity across the board, rather than seeking to close a door so long closed in the face of the black...All my life I have dared to meet people on equal ground, and not only that, but to share what I know, all my Indian tricks, and still try to be the better at what I do...That is the name of the game: Better, faster, smarter, safer... But together- is the aim above all others... Let us run the race together... None of us is going anywhere alone... Holding the other guy down is holding us all down... Let us rise together... Let's rise to the occasion of democracy and equality...
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Apr 22, 2013 3:53 PM
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