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Dave Zirin on civil rights, baseball and booing Carlos Santana

Earlier this spring, Major League Baseball held its annual civil rights gala weekend in Atlanta, where baseball’s luminaries from past and present gather to honor their sport’s long tradition of racial diversity. And there’s a lot to celebrate: professional teams regularly field players from across the U.S., Asia and especially Latin America. But as Dave Zirin, sportswriter for The Nation, tells us, when musician and fellow honoree Carlos Santana took to the podium, not everyone in Atlanta was cheering. Produced by William Brangham

While Zirin notes that Atlanta might have been an awkward location for baseball to hold its 2011 civil rights game because of the current controversy over Georgia’s recently passed immigration bill, many baseball fans will remember that 35 years ago, Atlanta was also the site of a historic moment for race relations – and baseball — in the U.S. It was April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron finally broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

As Aaron got closer and closer to breaking Ruth’s historic record, he was barraged with death threats and racist letters by those who hated the idea that a black man would dare break the record of one of baseball’s great (white) figures.

But when the moment finally came — and “Hammerin’ Hank” drilled a fastball over Atlanta’s outfield wall for a homerun, the crowd went absolutely wild. Veteran broadcaster Vin Scully – displaying a restraint that would be almost unimaginable today – said nothing on-air for nearly two minutes, letting just the sound of the crowds and the fireworks be the appropriate tribute to Aaron’s accomplishment.  When Scully finally spoke, he offered this near-perfect assessment: “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep south for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”

You can listen to the audio of Scully’s call here.

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  • Anonymous

    This page said anything about Carlos except that he was there and was boo-ed!  Come on!  Where’s the beef??

  • Jean

    wtf?  the title of this story needs to be changed to, “a black man once hit a baseball in atlanta”, because this story has NOTHING to do with carlos santana.  i expect more from pbs, but i guess that budget cuts are so bad they can’t finish their stories.

  • notasheep

    Illegal immigration has nothing to do with civil rights! Criminals forsake their rights. Duh

  • notasheep

    Illegal immigration has nothing to do with civil rights! Criminals forsake their rights. Duh

  • Jah Rasta

    How bout watching the actual video, geniuses?

  • Captoxygen

    What about MY civil rights? I’m a white, middle class, middle aged male. I go to college but I cannot qualify for student loans because I’m the wrong color, wrong gender, and wrong sexual persuasion. I, too, have a job where I scrub toilets, change the sheets, empty the trash, but my pay is bad because I work beside illegal immigrants who bring the pay scale down because of their willingness to work for nothing. The majority of the time, I cannot even participate in conversation because I do not speak Spanish, in my own non-Spanish-speaking country. I love Carlos’ music, but it will never again be played in my house. He is part of the problem, not the solution. If we wanted to speak for the silent people, he would include me, which he has chosen not to do. I agree fully with Arizona and Georgia, and personally  think those without papers should be shot on sight. Jailing them is stupid, as is deportation. Jailing means I still have to support these criminals; deportation means I have to pay to get rid of them, much like my garbage. As for Mr. Selig, he’s been a wuss for so long, why is anyone surprised at him not grabbing his pair and saying anything?

  • Al_zhiemer

    It was all in the Video…

  • guest

    You missed the video in the middle of the page.

  • guest

    You missed the video in the middle of the page.

  • guest

    You missed the video in the middle of the page.

  • youngnestor

    I say all Latinos, who are here legally, should pretend not to speak English or practice their freedom of speech by ONLY speaking Spanish. What a funny prank it’d be! What will the cops do? Take u to jail n then set u free for practicing your constitutionally given right? I can imagine the headline if I were to be jailed for looking TOO Mexican, “Army soldier jailed for keeping quiet and leaving his ID on base.”
    @Captoxygen, “…and personally think those without papers should be shot on sight.” what kind of heartless human being are you? Really? Illegal immigrants are no less human than you!!

  • Ningrowley

    that’s  why  baseball   is  not  longer  the  all-american-past-time sport  because  of  the mind-screwing-applied-into-by-dirty-law-and-politics  that  has  NOTHING  to  do  with  sports!!!!!  You  people  are  so  very  sick!!  Why  the  hell  did  you  fused  sport-politics  in  the  same  sensless  platform???  Jesus  H.  Christ!!!!!!!!!!  I’ll  stick  with nascar  and football  but  dammit  I so  love  baseball  and  boxing.  Too bad I so  love baseball.

  • Lori006

    I think your anger is misdirected at immigrants (of whatever status) who work here in America. People will go where there is work. Why aren’t you mad at the employers who hire illegal immigrants? How about directing some of that energy to tell our politicians to enforce immigration laws and punish employers who knowingly hire illegals?

  • Britishbeatles87

    Apparently you are a sheep. Ever heard of The Declaration of Human Rights, you know the one in which our country, the U.S. started??? I think you some edumicashin [education] hillbilly. Read it, you might learn something about civil rights! 

  • Britishbeatles87

    Oh, and I forgot. I quote you, ” Criminals forsake their rights. Duh” If that was the case, then why do criminals get rights in prison; for instance, a free education, free Medicare, free exercise, etc. I believe those are sufficient rights, wouldn’t you say???  Wow, it amazes me how you’re so passionate for a country you know NOTHING about. LOL!!!

  • Badluck Schleprock

     Look at this fat jew wagging his finger at whites for booing when a mexican tells them to be ashamed of themselves.  If Dave Zirin had his way, Atlanta’s stadium would chant along with Carlos in Spanish while waving mexican flags, as they did last week in Los Angeles at the Gold Cup final.  Mr. Santana should return home to the land of the burro where he belongs; this will save him the apparently monumental trouble of carrying ID for when he gets arrested next.