You know about Jackie Robinson. You know about Satchel Paige. And after the last two weeks, you sure as hell know about Michael Richards. (In case you’ve been under a very large rock, the video clip that’s the source of that particular fuss is available here.) What you probably don’t know about — and what nothing can really prepare you for, so I won’t even try — is this.
That photo is the front side of a postcard, which Uni Watch auction consultant David Brown discovered for sale on eBay. According to the seller, it dates from somewhere between 1904 and 1918, and this appears to be borne out by the jerseys’ pointed collars and other details (although the catcher’s chest protector, with its large panels of padding, looks surprisingly modern).
Phony? Photoshop? Probably not. This 2003 article, part of which is quoted in the eBay listing, says there’s a Nigger Island in Maryland (it’s now technically known as Negro Island), and there used to be another one in Ontario. Such place names were once common, and many of them have endured. According to that same article, America still had at least 144 “Nigger”-identified places in 2003. The controversy surrounding one of them — a Kentucky road called Nigger Fork — is discussed in this 1995 article.
And there’s more. Nigger Island is also the setting for Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (no word on whether they had a baseball team), considered by many to be her finest mystery novel, although most recent editions have changed the reference to Indian Island. In fact, the book’s original UK title was Ten Little Niggers (some editions with this title can be seen here and here), after the nursery rhyme we know today as “Ten Little Indians.”
As for the uniforms, there’s an irony — or at least a few shades of complexity — in the sight of an all-white team wearing Nigger Island jerseys. Like, what was the team’s full name, the Nigger Island Caucasians? Did other white teams mock them for wearing “Nigger” on their chests? Or were they proud to wear a racist epithet? Did any of them grow up to play for the old minor league Atlanta Crackers? One thing’s for sure: None of them played for the Crackers’ Negro League counterparts, the paradoxically named Atlanta Black Crackers.
What a mess. I already knew baseball and dysfunctional race relations were both quintessentially American, but I hadn’t thought about them intersecting quite like this before today. And as reader Austin Gray points out, the best commentary may be contained within the photo itself, where one of the guys in the back row has “ISLAND” misspelled as “ILSAND.” A subtle bit of subversion, or a textbook case of stupid is as stupid does? You be the judge.
I trust everyone will keep today’s comments intelligent, rational, and on topic, right? Right.
Contest Update: Thanks and congrats to everyone who entered the Distant Replays $200 gift card quiz/raffle, from Don Norwood, who submitted his entry barely an hour after the quiz was posted last Thursday, to Edward Ra, who clicked “Send” about 90 seconds before last night’s 11pm deadline. (Those who submitted after the deadline — you know who you are — will be entered into the drawing for the wild card berth but will not be eligible for the scoring-based finalist spots.)
A small battalion of trained lemurs is scoring the entries at this very moment (I tried to get chimps but they were too expensive). We should be ready to announce the 11 finalists tomorrow, as long as I don’t run out of Lemur Chow™. Hang tight till then.
Uni Watch News Ticker: That same eBay postcard seller also has this gorgeous 1906 shot — full listing here. … Yesterday’s pics of Marko Jaric’s backwards jersey prompted this recollection from Adam Ross: “Ala Abdelnaby never played when he was with the Blazers in 1992, so it was kind of a big deal when coach Rick Adelman motioned for him to get off the bench one time late in a blowout — except when he took off his warm-up jacket there was nothing on underneath. This led to the strange scene of a topless Ala running into the locker room to retrieve his jersey. He never did get in that night.” … More advertising apparently in store for soccer jerseys. … You can just barely see Hunter Hillenmeyer’s latest torn “C” decal here. … The BC Lions’ orange postseason helmets are up for auction (with thanks to Sheldon Spencer). … All our recent chatter about NFL officials’ garb prompted this hard-line observation from Ben Matthias: “I think it should be noted that the NFL officials don’t follow any protocol on what other accessories can be worn with their uniforms. In the ACC, for example (and in many other D-1 conferences), all members of a crew must wear gloves or nobody does. Same with earmuffs, hand warmers, etc. The NFL is lax on that rule. I think it makes the officiating crew stand out more (in a bad way) when each guy wears different things.” That seems a bit harsh to me. If only one guy wants to wear gloves, let him. … “The secretary where I work brought her high school yearbook to work the other day and I thought I’d take a look at the sports uniforms,” writes Chris Lemley. “It turns out that she graduated from Michigan’s Iron Mountain High School, the alma mater of the pride of the Upper Peninsula, Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci.” Take a look here and here. … Xavier will be wearing throwbacks tonight (with thanks to Andy Ingram). … Several readers have noted that Seahawks kicker Josh Brown had his earholes covered in Sunday night’s game. I’m assuming he did this for warmth, not to drown out the crowd noise (especially since his earholes have been unobstructed in other road games). … In other placekicker news, Jason Brown notes that Martin Gramatica was wearing his wedding band on Sunday, as you can just barely see here, here, and here.