Last week on MLB Network radio I heard Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, talking about Jackie Robinson and the new movie, “42,” about Robinson’s integrating major league baseball. Kendrick made a point of saying that if integration had been 10 years later, we would have missed the likes of Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ernie Banks, among others.
It got me thinking about a player born 10 years too soon. I saw him play when I was growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His name was Art Pennington. An all-star in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s, he was known as Superman for his broad chest and powerful slugging.
By the mid-1950s, when Robinson and other black players like Aaron and Mays were making their marks on the way to the Hall of Fame, Pennington was in his thirties and winning a batting title in the Three I League. He retired in 1959 and stayed in Cedar Rapids where he still lives. He’ll be 90 on May 18th.
I wonder . . . if America’s national pastime had sooner lived up to America’s ideals, would the bronze image of Art Pennington hang on the walls of Cooperstown along with Jackie Robinson’s? We’ll never know of course, and that is the shame.