Alvin Dark 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 23, 2017


I am sure I say things now that future generations will call “insensitive” and maybe bigoted or perhaps even racist. Our knowledge of what is appropriate language grows with each  passing years.

Some people complain, whine about “political correctness” or some other euphemism. But as we as a culture evolves to a more tolerant and understanding society, there will always be those who express the points of view of the past.

Transitions will always be hardest for them. But we should not be quick to forgive with the blanket “they are from a different time.” An ignorant statement is an ignorant statement. They should be treated as such. And hopefully the people who say the ignorant statement can learn from their mistakes.

I hope Alvin Dark did. He lived a wonderful baseball life but said something publicly that expressed a point of view of bigoted mindset. Later in Dark’s life, he predicted his statement would be mentioned in his obituary.

He was right.

Dark accomplished just about everything one could hope for in a baseball career. The Oklahoma native grew up in Louisiana. He served our country in World War II, was courted by the Philadelphia Eagles to play football and signed with the Boston Braves. His service time may have cost Dark a shot at the Hall of Fame.

He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1948 and led Boston to the World Series where they fell to the Cleveland Indians. Later he became the captain of the New York Giants under Leo Durocher. He was a part of the 1951 NL champs and 1954 World Series winners. Durocher considered him to be the cement of the team.

After bouncing between the Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies and Braves between 1956 and 1960, he retired and became the manager of the 1961 Giants.

In his second year, the San Francisco squad beat the Dodgers for the pennant and locked horns with the Yankees. Willie McCovey hit a deep foul ball and a line drive with two outs and the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Had the foul ball stayed fair or the line drive was a foot to the left of Bobby Richardson, the Giants would have won the World Series.

Instead the Yankees won 1-0 and took the Series.

Later he would manage the Kansas City A’s and the Cleveland Indians. In 1974, he joined a turbulent Oakland A’s squad that had just won back to back World Series. Dark was taking over for Dick Williams who led them to the post season in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and won it all in the last two years.

Dark was a lot different than Williams, laying on his Christian faith thick in the clubhouse and going along with all of owner Charlie Finley’s hairbrained schemes. There might not have been a lot of harmony in the A’s clubhouse, but there was success.

Oakland would win the 1974 World Series over Los Angeles. Dark successfully managed both Bay Area teams to the World Series. It should have been the crowning achievement of a long career.

He was let go after 1975 and after a brief stint managing the Padres, as shown in this Topps Card, he retired. He lived until November 2014.

But alas, that isn’t his legacy. His long term legacy is expressing a mindset probably forged from growing up in Depression Era Louisiana but can be still heard from bigots today.

During the 1964 season, he was quoted by Newsday reporter Stan Isaacs complaining about the racial makeup of the San Francisco Giants.

“We have trouble because we have so many Negro and Spanish-speaking players on this team. They are just not able to perform up to the white players when it comes to mental alertness.”

That’s what he was quoted as saying. He was referring to a team featuring Willie Mays, arguably the greatest player in baseball history, plus Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal plus Jesus, Matty and Felipe Alou.

Dark did damage control, claimed his words were “deformed” and he was misunderstood. What is there to misunderstand about this?

The players on his team, including Cepeda, remembered him asking the Spanish speaking players to only speak English. Felipe Alou thought Dark was a nice man who was “totally separated from the reality of the world.”

I bet he just held long unchallenged views that he never expected to have to defend. Either way, his days on the Giants were numbered.

It was not his racial views that got him removed from the team but a hypocrisy of his devout Christian life. The loud Bible thumper was carrying on a long term extra marital affair. The revelation of that mixed with his racial controversy led to his dismissal after the 1964 season.

Was Dark a racist? No doubt he was a product of a racist environment. Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson both defended his character but that does not diminish what he felt comfortable to express as a truism.

It is clear over this year that we have a long way to go with racial peace in this country. There are still plenty of people who hold points of view, whether they are insidious or not, that an entire ethnic group is superior to another.

That must always be combated and the people who express that must be made to understand the folly of their point of view.

Alvin Dark never lived it down but perhaps we can learn from it and improve. Maybe he did. We may never know.

But the player and manager who was ironically nicknamed “Blackie” had his wonderful baseball life tarnished by his words.