We tend towards the smarmy and irreverent over here. Actually, “tend” probably isn’t a strong enough word. We “tend” towards smarmy like Kyle Farnsworth “tends” towards being a cry-baby pansy. If you had any doubts about our smarminess, that last sentence should have erased them.
Every once in a while, though, we run into a story that softens even our jaded hearts. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all Mitch Albom here. In fact, I’ll probably go punch a baby polar bear as soon as I’m done writing this just to prove I’m not going soft. That being said, the story of John Donaldson might just get to you, too.
John Klima recently wrote a moving tribute to Peter Gorton and his search for John Donaldson. However, what got me most in the story was that beyond his ability as a ballplayer, Donaldson was way ahead of his time when it came to professionalism. During Curtis Granderson’s tenure with the Tigers, he wrote a blog for ESPN and I liked to check it out from time to time because he always had an interesting take on events. Donaldson did the same thing 100 years earlier and his criticism of early 20th century racism still hits home today: “If I act the part of a gentleman, am I not entitled to a little respect?”
Unfortunately for Donaldson, it took another 30 years for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier and only now are his exploits coming to light. From an apparent 18-inning, 31 strikeout game to suggesting a name for the most famous Negro League team, the Kansas City Monarchs, Donaldson seems to be a legend come to life. But once again his exploits on the field pale in comparison to the person he seems to have been off of it. Can you imagine any current major leaguer recounting this story?:
“One prominent baseball man in fact offered me a nice sum if I would go
to Cuba, change my name and let him take me into this country as a
Cuban. It would mean renouncing my family. One of the
agreements was that I was never again to visit my mother or have
anything to do with colored people. I refused. I am not ashamed of my
Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the smarminess and irreverence tomorrow. Every once in a while, though, it’s nice to pay tribute to a hero of the game. Even if only half the stories are true, John Donaldson makes it in my book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a baby polar bear to punch.