After Jackie celebrates Jackie Robinson opening the door for other Black players to join the league and this documentary taps into key people and events in the aftermath.
Armed with courage, selflessness, and a knack for stealing bases, on April 15th, 1947, 28-year-old Jackie Robinson became the first African American baseball player to sign with a major league ballclub; outside the segregated negro league in the United States. Robinson’s ascension within America’s favorite pastime did more than open the door of opportunity for other Black players who aspire to set foot in the majors, it was also a glimpse at the path of hardship that Black players entering the league after him would have to face —on and off the field in strives for equality in Jim Crow America.
After Jackie, a new documentary on the History Channel, executive producer by Lebron James and Maverick Carter, explores the stories of baseball’s unsung Black pioneers: Bill White, Bob Gibson, and Curt Flood — who were all part of the 1960’s World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals team, and whom Jackie would continue to support in his career as an activist after retiring from baseball.
The documentary unfolds through a collage of archival game highlights and rare interview footage from the three players — allowing them to deliver their stories in their own words. Along with exclusive video footage of Jackie Robinson, juxtaposed a star-studded cast of current and former African American baseball legends like CC Sabathia, Ken Griffey Jr., Mookie Betts, and Dave Roberts –whose accounts and reflections share the importance of this story.
In 1964, Bob Gibson started to bubble as the first Black Ace of a major league baseball team. The Black Aces are an exceptional group of black pitchers who have each won at least twenty baseball games in a single season. After the desegregation of the league, Black pitchers were a rare sight due in part to a practice where teams that drafted them would frequently turn them into position players. It was seldom that the players would be allowed to continue pitching.
Gibson would spend his entire 17-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was at the height of the 1968 season — that would go on to be known as The Year Of The Pitcher; that Bob Gibson would be at the forefront and change the game forever.
That year Bob became a dominant force as a pitcher, prompting the league to move forward with its decision to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches so that hitters would have more of an advantage at hitting.
In his prime, Gibson was an unstoppable force on the mound. His career with the Cardinals cumulated to 251 victories, 3,117 strikeouts, 56 shutouts, and an ERA of 2.91, proving that African American players were prominent contributors to the game’s growth. And in the end, Bob Gibson’s career and resume would become a north star for shaping the future of Black players entering the league.
Generally known for his contributions after retiring from baseball, the first baseman, Bill White, became the first Black sportscaster to call games for MLB teams. In the years that followed, White would become the first African American elected president of the National League in 1989.
It’s known that Curt Flood had a nearly perfect career on paper. After all, he did win seven straight National League Gold Glove Awards for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, his impact on baseball history extends well beyond the stat sheets.
Most sports fans are vastly familiar with the term Free Agency, but even more, are unaware the phrase was coined after Curt’s defiant battle against Major League Baseball in 1969 when he refused to comply with being traded to the Phillies.
During this time, players were bound for life to a team under the Reserve Clause. This clause stated that a player was the property of a team. Therefore, as property, the only way athletes could part ways with a ballclub was at the owners’ discretion. So as a player, black or white, when faced with the possibility of being traded somewhere that one may have objections to, the only option available was retirement.
Curt Flood’s petition would lead to his exile from the league. He ultimately sacrificed his playing career for a battle with the Supreme Court that ended in defeat. Becoming the first player to challenge this clause sparked the inspiration for forming a players’ union. All of which subsequently led to the MLB reaching an agreement that granted Free Agency to players and opened the door to the lucrative contracts earned and enjoyed by pro athletes across all sports today. Curt Flood never received the opportunity to benefit from any of this.
This year, in the wake of the MLB celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut as a Brooklyn Dodger, it’s important to commemorate men like Bill White, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and others that continue to carry the torch in the fight for equality that Robinson embarked.
From leading the way for free agency to occupying front office positions, the evolution and contributions that Black baseball players have bestowed upon the world of sports are undeniable. The documentary, After Jackie, tells the story of not only what happened when players went through the door that Robinson opened but also imparts insight into the evolution of the next generation of athletes.
Ciara, also known as Ci, is a visual content producer and storyteller from West Memphis, AR and is currently working as a Video Producer & Editor at SLAM Magazine in New York City, where she is based. Visit Ciara’s website here.