Using the Market to Fight Racial Discrimination, Jackie Robinson edition
When [Jackie] Robinson joined the [Kansas City] Monarchs, [Buck] O’Neil believed, the Monarchs started learning from him very quickly. Previously, they had always traveled by bus, and as they swung through the South, there were certain places they always stopped for gas and food. There was a place in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where they had always gassed up, but where the owner never let them use the rest rooms. Robinson had not known that, so when the bus pulled in, ready to fill up its twin fifty-gallon tanks, he got out to go to the men’s room. “Where you going, boy?” the owner said, and Robinson answered that he was going to the men’s room. “No, you’re not,” the owner said. “You boys know that.” Robinson never even hesitated. “Take the hose out of the tank!” he said immediately, and that was no idle threat, for one hundred gallons of gas was a big sale, a fair percentage of the amount of money the man might make on a given day. The man looked at Robinson and saw the anger and strength in his face. He was not the first, and certainly not the last, white man to see that conviction, and he immediately backed down. “You boys can use the rest rooms,” he said. “Just don’t stay there too long.”
This is from David Halberstam, October 1964. I’m enjoying learning a lot about early baseball. I didn’t follow it much until the late 1980s. And of course the interplay of baseball and racial discrimination is a major theme of the book.
The Kansas City Monarchs were a baseball franchise in the Negro American League. Jackie Robinson joined the team in 1945. Buck O’Neil was the Monarchs’ manager from 1948 to 1955.
Although I don’t know if economist Gary Becker knew this story, I’m pretty sure, given his insights about how free markets undercut racial discrimination, that he wouldn’t have been surprised and, of course, would have been delighted.