Baseball great Stan Musial died on January 19, and he was justly lauded as one of the greatest players of his era. His obituaries noted that Musial’s late 1940’s Cardinals included some of the most racist players in the game, and that many yelled racist barbs at Jackie Robinson and other black Brooklyn Dodger players. Musial “did not speak out on racial issues,
” and never publicly questioned the team’s refusal to hire a black player until 1954. While Musial is praised for “showing no reluctance to play with black players,” his racial legacy should be seen in the context of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assessment that the biggest obstacle to justice for blacks was not the “violence of white bigots” but the “silence” of moderates who favor order over justice.
By all accounts, Stan Musial was a great person who got along with everyone. And while many believe that baseball players of his era should not have been expected to address racial issues, it would not have taken much for Musial to tell a sportswriter that he thought his teammates should stop their attacks on black players.
Why did Musial remain silent? He was not a person who sought controversy, and never saw himself as a racial pioneer. Perhaps he did not care enough about what his teammates were doing to risk his stature as the “icon” of the Midwest by speaking out. Or maybe he mistakenly thought his words would not make any difference.
Regardless of the reasons, Musial remained silent at a time when his voice would have made a huge difference for the progress of black baseball players in Major League Baseball.
So by all means let’s praise “The Man” for his baseball talent and his engaging personality. But let’s not elevate his silence to something honorable. That Musial “never had the need to sit in the dugout and call a black guy a bunch of names” is hardly worth cheering, and not something his obituaries should brag about.