Eddie Klep: Jackie in Reverse?

I am a privileged white man in America who is in full sincere agreement with the copy/paste memo that’s been going around in the midst of the continued senseless and cruel racist reality of our blood-tarnished nation, the memo which names and “tags” victims who have suffered at the hands and whims of other privileged white men.

Like so many others who want and feebly try to do better, my heart breaks. I’ve shed tears and written words and taken actions and it’s smaller than small potatoes because … well, you know.

But I am also a baseball geek of unusual proportions and so today I celebrate the memory of Eddie Klep, who became the first white man to play negro league baseball on May 29, 1946. In a sense, Eddie was Jackie Robinson in reverse.

My friend Chuck Brodsky wrote a song about him and it included the following wonderful lyrics: “So while Jackie played for Brooklyn and wore the Dodger blue, Eddie crossed the color line, the one without a queue.” Give a listen!

On this day in 1946, Eddie made his debut with the Cleveland Buckeyes, pitching seven innings of an 8-6 win over the Chicago American Giants, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He pitched that year in the Negro American League, and then a few years later in Rockview State Prison (Pennsylvania). Eddie wasn’t what I’d call a privileged white man, per se. He had a pretty tough life overall, finally taking his backstage pass to the universe in 1981.

But I think that Eddie’s story is particularly relevant now, in light of all we know about white privilege in a country where a black man can still be murdered by the police just for being black.

Somewhere way, way down on the list of “important stuff” is the notion of an equal playing field, regardless of race, in baseball. That didn’t quite exist in Eddie’s time, though that segment of humanity concerned with baseball was getting closer to the ideal (Jackie Robinson had integrated white baseball by the time Klep integrated black baseball, and was starring for Montreal of the International League in 1946).

So here’s to Eddie Klep, the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in reverse, and his teammates in the Negro American League, who were very supportive. Now, enjoy Chuck’s song.

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