Wednesday, August 24, 2016
The white man who broke MLB's color barrier
I’ll be taking our 10-year-old to the 12:30 Pirate game today because it’ll simultaneously allow me to achieve two things foremost to my existence: one, have fun; two, brainwash my offspring into believing the old man was once wise and nimble-minded.
It’s easy for me to do today because I’m a student of the game.
I’ll tell Lucy stories of Pirate greats Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner and, of course, Jackie Robinson, eternally famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier.
The story of the hallowed Robinson is why I’m chagrinned I’ll be able to relate so little about forgotten Eddie Klep.
Eddie Klep was the Jackie Robinson of baseball 11 months before Jackie Robison became famous for being Jackie Robinson.
Klep broke the color barrier by being the first white to play in the Negro Leagues.
It happened May 29, 1946, when he pitched seven innings for the Cleveland Buckeyes in what many sources say was an 8-6 win over the Chicago American Giants.
And that’s about the only relevant thing I know about this pale pioneer.
Sadly, the only other thing I know is — God help us — his life story was sold to Adam Sandler’s film company.
So that means, perhaps, sometime in the next 10 years we’ll see an entire movie that’ll play out like the fish-out-of-water Dexter Lake Club scene from “Animal House.”
“Can we dance wit yo’ dates?”
I read about Klep, who died in ’81 at the age of 72, in my go-to source for baseball minutia: The “On This Day in Baseball” feature that runs in wee print on the days when there’s leftover room beneath the newspaper box scores.
Fun fact for Pirate fans: It was 37 years ago today MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti permanently banned Pete Rose for betting on baseball.
I don’t think Rose should be permanently banned for gambling. I think he should be banned for having one of the worst hair cuts of any public figure for the last four decades.
Fun fact for non-sports fans: Bart Giamatti, about whom there is much to admire, is the father of actor Paul Giamatti, about whom there is much to admire (loved him in “Sideways” from ’04).
So many questions about Klep, who was born in Erie in 1918.
Robinson was mercilessly heckled with white fans — and opposing teams — making monkey sounds and screaming the n-word.
Robinson took it all and kicked historic ass.
Did anyone heckle Klep? Was he treated differently? And was he any good?
Most sources I see say he was 1-0, which percentage-wise would make him one of the all-time greatest pitchers.
But the encyclopedic BaseballReference.com says Klep lost his only game, which percentage-wise would make him one of the all-time worst pitchers and thus a suitable candidate to start for the Bucs from ’93 through ’12.
But what about the man?
Was he trying to make a civil rights statement? Did he feel he’d done something significant? Where his fans called Klep-to-maniacs?
It is said he died of alcoholism in 1981.
What drove this man to drink?
Was it fear he’d be remembered? Or fear he’d be forgotten?
I’ll bet I know.
He had a premonition one day someone like Adam Sandler would be primarily responsible for telling his life story.