Of all the words of baseball history I’ve come across, I think the most beautiful are these attributed to then-NL President Ford Frick, responding to rumors of a boycott against Jackie Robinson:

I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don’t care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another.

The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness.

In 1883, Cap Anson and other stars of the day had threatened to take their ball and go home rather than take the field with a black player. Sixty-three years later, Frick — the sixth NL president in the segregated era — and other fair-minded people told Anson’s spiritual heirs, Who needs you? As usually happens in such cases, the bullies backed down.

As a sidebar, if there’s any doubt that Jackie was one of the most valuable players in baseball history, here’s the all-time top 20 in Wins Above Replacement for ages 28-37:

Rk Player bWAR G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 104.6 1418 6346 4989 1355 1771 282 66 455 1377 1255 728 23 72 77 .355 .487 .712 1.198
2 Barry Bonds 90.6 1429 6162 4751 1158 1478 294 37 437 1096 1311 739 54 242 68 .311 .461 .664 1.126
3 Honus Wagner 88.9 1396 5944 5207 983 1788 347 139 54 900 550 363 66 444 .343 .413 .495 .907
4 Willie Mays 88.2 1532 6403 5631 1111 1701 285 55 371 1049 697 770 21 147 44 .302 .378 .570 .948
5 Hank Aaron 73.7 1521 6497 5730 1072 1766 298 28 386 1097 701 717 12 177 45 .308 .382 .572 .954
6 Ty Cobb 72.1 1365 6091 5253 1066 1937 346 131 46 833 656 262 32 359 124 .369 .442 .511 .953
7 Mike Schmidt 69.6 1475 6224 5155 963 1426 249 32 361 1031 959 1084 35 82 48 .277 .389 .547 .936
8 Lou Gehrig 68.4 1243 5637 4674 1114 1582 286 74 306 1184 927 376 27 60 56 .338 .451 .628 1.078
9 Stan Musial 68.3 1498 6591 5637 1039 1891 384 72 288 1051 889 352 26 31 28 .335 .426 .582 1.009
10 Tris Speaker 68.3 1371 5967 5007 983 1801 434 100 66 798 763 131 42 149 65 .360 .448 .526 .974
11 Joe Morgan 66.4 1385 5913 4777 929 1341 253 33 171 692 1040 494 22 444 95 .281 .407 .455 .862
12 Nap Lajoie 64.6 1270 5321 4802 681 1650 350 68 25 737 324 182 56 190 5 .344 .392 .460 .852
13 Rogers Hornsby 64.3 1084 4586 3834 838 1412 290 55 183 836 605 300 15 31 15 .368 .456 .616 1.072
14 Roberto Clemente 63.6 1372 5837 5355 847 1770 249 99 165 811 412 771 20 51 16 .331 .378 .506 .884
15 Jackie Robinson 63.2 1382 5804 4877 947 1518 273 54 137 734 740 291 72 197 30 .311 .409 .474 .883
16 Ted Williams 61.4 1079 4718 3675 850 1264 253 27 253 914 1026 309 11 11 4 .344 .488 .634 1.122
17 Charlie Gehringer 59.2 1419 6425 5534 1143 1825 386 64 140 986 798 209 25 92 37 .330 .417 .499 .915
18 Wade Boggs 57.9 1415 6392 5401 920 1770 358 38 79 613 901 436 18 10 24 .328 .421 .452 .873
19 Eddie Collins 57.0 1445 6421 5265 919 1731 208 95 27 662 816 189 27 336 127 .329 .421 .420 .841
20 Rickey Henderson 54.2 1253 5508 4457 967 1268 224 20 141 470 967 629 48 526 114 .284 .415 .439 .854
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/15/2012.

What might Jackie’s career have looked like if MLB had allowed him in before age 28? Well, for the other 19 players on the list above, the median WAR through age 27 was a cool 50. And 16 of those 19 are among the top 20 in career WAR.

It seems fitting that the standings of April 15, 2012 show the Dodgers alone at the top, and that their best player (and probably the most valuable in the game today) is an African-American from Oklahoma, a former slave territory.

It’s a great day for a ballgame, folks. Let’s all play.

(Tip of the ol’ Brooklyn Bridegrooms cap to Doug Glanville, Buster Olney, Joe Posnanski, Timothy Rapp, John Thorn, and Graham Womack.)

Doug Glanville,

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