February 10 – Happy Birthday Herb Pennock
What you can learn doing research for a blog about the New York Yankees. Today’s birthday celebrant is a Hall-of-Fame southpaw who pitched for the great Yankee teams of the 1920s. His Manager at the time, Miller Huggins, called Pennock the best left-hander in baseball back then. My choice would probably have been Lefty Grove but Pennock was indeed very good. He went 162-90 during his 11 seasons in New York and 5-0 in the World Series. He was a native of Kennett Square, PA and was nicknamed the “Knight of Kennett Square,” but when it came to his feelings about blacks, chivalry played no part.
Many respected authors and baseball historians have presented strong evidence that Pennock was a racist. Playing in an era when blacks were not permitted in the Major Leagues helped hide that fact, but when he retired from the mound and became a front-office executive, first for the Red Sox as head of their farm system and then later as GM of the Phillies, Pennock was able to actively help prevent integration in the big leagues. And when it did happen, he was among its’ most vociferous opponents.
Pennock was known to threaten that he’d never let his Philadelphia team take the field against any opponent that had a black man on their roster. Dodger owner Branch Rickey claimed that Pennock told him that Philadelphia wasn’t ready to see a “n—–r” play Major League baseball. He hired Ben Chapman, his old Yankee teammate and one of the most notorious racists in all of baseball, to manage the Phillies. Chapman was an equal-opportunity bigot. The anti-Semitc slurs he had made as a New York outfielder during the 1930s had so enraged the team’s Jewish fans that they presented a petition, signed by over 15,000 people, requesting that the New York front office banish the player.
I’m not naive. I realize it was a different time in our society back then, but can you imagine what would happen to a modern day ballplayer who committed the same offenses as Chapman? Well if you were Herb Pennock you’d hire the guy to manage the Phillies. If those were the “good old days” of baseball in this country, I’m glad I wasn’t around to witness them. It was Chapman who became infamous for his cruel treatment of Jackie Robinson whenever Philadelphia played Brooklyn during the 1947 season.
The fact that Pennock is in the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose is not is why so many of today’s fans wonder what the phrase; “protecting the moral integrity of the game,” truly means.