Saturday, February 27, 2010

Welcome to spring training -- origins of Arizona's Cactus League

Douglas McDaniel writes an intriguing article for the Phoenix Performing Arts Examiner on the origins of the Cactus League. Very timely as Major League Baseball starts spring training in Arizona and Florida. Read the entire article at

When baseball "broke the color barrier," there were all kinds of ripple effects. Arizona hasn't always been the most hospitable place for non-white people. Those migrating across the border aren't always welcome, unless they're mowing golf courses or washing dishes at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Arizona voters turned down a 1990 MLK Day proposal. The NFL yanked the 1990 Super Bowl out of Arizona. In 1992, state voters finally recognized the evil of their ways and okayed the MLK Day holiday. The Super Bowl finally came to Sun Devil stadium in 1996.

In the 1940s, economics and nice weather and a few pushy individuals such as Bill Veeck made the Cactus League happen.

Florida, on the other hand, was definitely a part of the Dixie South. I just finished listening to a PBS series about the very slow dissolution of the color barrier at NASA during the 1960s. Some of the NASA employees interviewed cited Cape Canaveral as the worst place for a black employee. Worse than Huntsville, Alabama? Well, Huntsville had a long-standing federal presence. The military had been integrated since 1948 and many had been stationed in Huntsville. Scientists and researchers had been coming to Huntsville from all over the world. Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center, was at least a big city where blacks and white occasionally mingled.

Brevard County, Florida, was not so enlightened. An African-American town was obliterated to make way to launch facilities. "Separate but equal" was still in effect at schools and restaurants and the workplace.

I grew up one county to the north. Volusia County was home to the Daytona Speedway and the World's Most Famous Beach. Blacks couldn't go to this famous beach. They had to go to Bethune Beach, or N----- Beach as it was known to Crackers. Sundown laws kept blacks off of the beach side at night. Schools were segregated through the 1960s. The KKK was active into the 1970s and may still be.

How did black players on MLB teams fare in Florida? Did they have to stay in separate hotels and eat at separate restaurants? I don't know the answer to those questions. But I plan to find out.

To view a hilarious mockumentary on "The Old Negro Space Program," go to

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