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The New Doctor

We regret to see that there is an effort being made to introduce a political firebrand into the convention, in the form of a motion for the admission of colored club representatives into the Association. We hope nothing of the kind will be attempted. Thus far we have steered clear of this stumbling-block, and we sincerely hope it will be avoided for years to come.

If the colored clubs are as numerous as represented, it would be advisable for them to get up an association of their own. We wish to exclude every question from discussion in the Convention that in any way has a political complexion, and for this reason we shall oppose any such recognition as the one above alluded to. (Source: New York Sunday Mercury November 10, 1867)

The context of this excerpt is that the previous month the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia had tried to join the convention of the Pennsylvania State Association of Base Ball Players. Ordinarily this would not have been a problem. Quite the opposite: the Pythians were a self-consciously respectable middle class organization. They were just the sort of club that baseball associations loved, except for one unfortunate detail: they were a colored club. That fellow to the right is Octavius Catto, their team captain and second baseman. Their application threw the convention into disarray. There were discussions, hand-wringing, procedural motions, and the application was tabled to give time for canvassing.

The Pythians’ application was sponsored by Thomas Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was very much a baseball insider: former president of the National Association of Base Ball Players and president of the Athletic Club during its ascent to the top of the Philadelphia baseball scene. He also was a radical Republican, stumping for Lincoln before that became trendy. What separated radical from moderate Republicans was civil rights for blacks. The radicals took the issue seriously. The moderates weren’t necessarily opposed to idea, but didn’t think it should get in the way of the serious business of government. Fitzgerald’s support for the Pythians’ membership application was a natural extension of his politics.

The application was withdrawn on Fitzgerald’s advice. After canvassing the other delegates he concluded that it wasn’t going to fly. He thought it wiser to retreat to fight another day. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have some trenchant commentary on this phenomenon, but that is a discussion for another day.

The excerpt quoted above was written in anticipation that there might be a similar attempt at the upcoming national convention. The writer is Henry Chadwick, the premier baseball journalist and a central figure in organized baseball at this time. Chadwick was not particularly racist, by the standards of the day. I write this as a connoisseur of Chadwickiana.  I have read over thirty years of his writing (with about another fifteen to go) and the subject of race virtually never comes up. It simply wasn’t a topic that interested him.

What did interest Chadwick was the promotion of sports in general and baseball in particular. Specifically, the promotion of his vision of baseball (both playing and watching) as a respectable middle class activity. His views on hot topics such as Sunday games or liquor sales consistently align with contemporary ideas of middle class propriety. I take him at his word when he worried about the introduction of politics into baseball. It would create division, with the potential to become a wedge issue within his desired middle class patronage.

Next we jump forward twenty years. The context for the next excerpt is that limited racial integration had in fact occurred, lasting a bit over a decade. The emphasis should be on “limited.” We’re talking about around half a dozen players, mostly on the high minor league level. Why this occurred, and why it ended, are great topics, but for another day. Relevant here is that by 1887 this era was winding down. Black players on mostly-white clubs had been tolerated, but this was growing less true. Often it was their teammates who objected. Within a couple of years, management would conclude it wasn’t worth the hassle.

The specific event at hand was a sitting of the Syracuse (N.Y.) Stars for a photographic portrait, including Robert Higgins, a colored pitcher. Douglas Crothers, a white pitcher, objected to being photographed with a black man. The manager insisted, and Crothers slugged the manager, resulting in his suspension. The excerpt that follows is in response to this suspension. (I didn’t find the photograph in a perfunctory search. Here is the team photo from the following year, with two–count them! Two!–black players. Higgins is in the lower left. That is Fleet Walker in the upper left. He had been playing on white clubs since 1883. His expression has a distinct “tired of putting up with shit” look to it.)

The general impression is that Crothers was about right when he refused to have his picture taken in a group with Higgins, the “C–n.” This thing of ringing n——s into white clubs and compelling the players to associate with them is beyond common decency, and Crothers deserves great credit for showing his manhood. If Syracuse wants a colored club there are plenty of n—–s to be had, but this thing of having their teams made up of half black and half white, like many of the International League clubs is really disgusting and, if anything, degrading. (Source: National Police Gazette July 2, 1887; racial slurs elided.)

The writer here is June Rankin.  I wrote previously about his brother William, who gifted us with the myth that Alexander Cartwright invented baseball. Note that the discreet dashes in the excerpt were not in the original.  It spelled those words out fully. June’s day job was as the sporting editor of the New York Herald. The Herald was a reputable paper, and one doesn’t find such language used there–at least not in the editorial voice. This, however, is not from a reputable paper.  It is from the National Police Gazette, the supermarket tabloid of its day.  The Gazette was heavily illustrated, running to lurid tales of homicides, fallen women, homicides, homicides involving fallen women, and natural disasters. This illustration from 1894 is gloriously representative of the genre. The Gazette had extensive sports coverage, but it ran more to boxing and horse racing. Baseball, with its emphasis on propriety, wasn’t really in its wheelhouse. On the other hand, baseball was huge, and couldn’t be ignored. So it gave half a page each week during the season to baseball, contracting the work out to Rankin. What we see in the excerpt is Rankin letting his freak flag fly.

Look past the surface. Underlying Chadwick’s genteel politesse and Rankin’s deliberate offensiveness is the exact same policy. Both are advocating separation of the races lest white folks be disturbed. The presence or absence of spittle flecks is neither here nor there.

Finally to bring this puppy home, Chadwick’s error is painfully obvious to us today. He wanted to avoid politics. In reality, his policy merely avoided controversy. These are not the same thing. He recognized that admitting blacks would be a political act. He missed the flip side, that excluding blacks was equally a political act. There is no opt-out provision available.

Also, Tilda Swinton would have been an awesome Doctor! Maybe next time.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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34 thoughts on “The New Doctor

  1. Yeah this just seems more like a way to talk about 19th century baseball and tabloids. Which is fine and good but why not just make that a post of its own.

    I suppose the broader point is that there will always be bigots complaining about changes to “tradition.”

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    • this just seems more like a way to talk about 19th century baseball and tabloids.

      Like I need a clever stratagem to talk about 19th century baseball and tabloids? I actually had been contemplating a post about blacks in 19th century baseball. I jumped at this opportunity to make the point that this stuff isn’t just ancient history, what with our now living in a post-racial utopia as we do.

      Also, I fully intend to do a post of just National Police Gazette illustrations, because they are awesome! The Gazette put out a special issue for the Johnstown Flood. That alone would be enough for a post.

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      • I’d dearly love to see all the National Post illustrations you find. The wacky advertisements from posts past are at once amusing, fascinating, educational, and admirable for the artistry. Perhaps more newsy pictures would be less chuckle-inducing but nevertheless still insightful.

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  2. My first draft opened with a discussion of Doctor Who casting, with a heartfelt encomium to the awesomeness of Jon Pertwee. This was followed by a paragraph about how the arguments about Jodie Whittaker and political correctness are nothing new, transitioning to the early baseball. Then I figure the hell with it: you guys can figure out the connection. I was inspired by this classic three part series over at Slacktivist entitled “Sex and Money”. It does not in fact talk about sex much, but talks a great deal about money. The connection is implied, and very effective. I concede the possibility that in this post I aimed and missed.

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  3. Yes, the people that objected to integration of baseball in the 19th century were kinda big deals in their day. You’ve made that case very well.

    With the 13th doctor casting, I’m having a hard time finding any people using the “Not My Doctor” hashtag that are both 1) ‘somebodies’ and 2) using the tag unironically. There are also very few that even have an account with followers numbering in the double digits. (and who knows how much those triple digit or quad digit heros have the numbers padded by bots)

    eta – to me, this is like the people that are already making excuses for Senator Harris.

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    • There was a predictable round of predictable complaints by the predictable people when the announcement was made. Search on Doctor Who politically correct and you will find any amount of this stuff. How serious is it? Hard to tell. My guess is not very, but then again I thought the same about people renouncing the NFL because of Colin Kaepernick, and yet I have had people assure me on this very site that this is real.

      I think the difference between a female Doctor today and a black baseball player in 1887 is how many people have the ability to stop it. That is, the number of critical failure points. With Doctor Who that number is small: a few decision-makers high up hierarchy. If an actor auditioning for a supporting role was so offended by a female doctor that he refused to take part in the project, he would easily be replaced. The failure points were more numerous in 1887. Much of the resistance came from other players, on both teams. The structural peculiarities of professional team sports were such that simply firing the recalcitrant players and hiring replacements wasn’t really an option.

      Then there is the question of audience acceptance. There is little evidence that this was the issue in 1887, at least in the north. There was that time in 1884 when the Toledo Club played in Richmond, Virginia, and was strongly advised to keep Fleet Walker off the field lest there be gunplay, but I haven’t come across this sort of thing in the north, nor any evidence of spectators staying home rather than attending a game with a colored player. How this will play out with the Doctor is an open question.

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      • 1887 was only a generation after the Civil War and the emancipation of African-Americans. Northerners might have hated slavery but they didn’t necessarily like African-Americans at the time either. It was a much more bigoted society. The first female Doctor is coming into existence after years of progressive social change. Feminism is generally more entrenched in British society at this time than African-American rights were in 1887.

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    • The new Doctor looks great and I’m looking forward to seeing what she will do with the role. Every past Doctor has always been a touch arrogant about his intellect which only softened with time and familiarity; a bit of whimsy that later hardens into serious when an actual threat manifests. That’s the emotional journey the Doctor makes in most all of the episodes going back to the seventies when I first started watching the show with the mostly goofy Fourth Doctor.

      Arrogance tempering into empathy, frivolity maturing into responsibility. It should go without saying that a woman can portray those emotional transformations too. They may feel a bit different thanks to our culture, but exploring how that will be the case is the real opportunity of casting a woman as the Doctor.

      So, she can absolutely be my Doctor.

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  4. The best and only important thing Who is doing is getting Moffat out of there. He’s a heck of a story & teleplay writer, but whatever edge he had a showrunner departed at least two years ago.

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      • I honestly have no idea who the replacement is, but Moffat had to go. He lost whatever instincts and mojo he had when Clara didn’t die when she was supposed to.

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        • K,
          You .. didn’t like Season 9?
          (Best Spinoff Idea Ever, with Maisie and Coleman. Particularly since Maisie is… so easy to get ahold of).

          Last Christmas: A pretty cool “halloween” christmas episode.
          The Dalek episodes were pretty cool (though the whole tentacle monster thing felt kinda hentai) — way better than some have been.
          They got a killer actress for Missy, and she more than hams it up.
          Underthelake was a good ghost story (coulda used better special effects)

          The girl who died was criminally cut short (and you could REALLY tell it wanted that second episode)

          I liked the Schroedinger’s cat episode.

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          • And the final three episodes build up to something amazing

            Total tangent: (though, why the hell they can’t actually use the Doctor’s Name, goddamit. And if they’re going to use his title, use his FULL title, which is Doctor of War — which as he’s been decomissioned, they wouldn’t use.).

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          • Whenever the Christmas episode happened when Clara was supposed to die as an old woman, but then Jenna Coleman had a change of heart on leaving the show, so they did a quick kludge to get her back.

            But that points to the other more fundamental error Moffat made.

            Don’t. Let. The. Xmas. Episode. Be. Part. Of. Continuity.

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            • K,
              Oh, that wasn’t Jenna pulling things off the rails.That was the consultants facefaulting and then physically dragging the whole show back on track. (Some of Season 8 was seriously unwatchable.)

              And that was a Decent Christmas episode. Way way way better than Davies ever managed.

              Christmas episodes can be continuity, they just shouldn’t be Mandatory Continuity (both because regular fans shouldn’t need to watch Christmas if they hate Christmas, and secondly because Christmas Viewers are old biddies knitting for their nieces, and shouldn’t be expected to remember Normal Who Continuity).

              But, seriously, what the hell was your problem with season 9? That was a crack season (and I just went through the episodes, so … they really weren’t bad).

              Are you objecting to making a companion a more equal partner with the Doctor? Because that’s the basic plotline to Season 9, and my opinion of you is going to drop a LOT if you say “I wanted more girly screaming” ala 1950’s scifi where women aren’t allowed to solve problems just be dippy damsels.

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              • Uh, no, I don’t object, as Donna Noble is the best companion in all of Nu-Who.

                Looking back, perhaps Season 8 seeping into my perception of Series 9. (i.e. I thought Kill the Moon was a Series 9 story). I do think Series 9 has a core weakness in that each of the 2 part arcs, one part is so much better than the other, which creating a jarring whiplash.

                And it seems to be a very minority opinion, but I was a bit underwhelmed by Maisie Williams performance in the Girl Who Lived.

                I did like the structure of Hell Bent (though it was weaker than Heaven Sent). And if there’s a problem with this most recent (10th) Series, is that they’ve lost the ability to do that non-linear story telling with any effectiveness. (and it didn’t help that BBC America, for some unfathomable reason, decided to show spoilers for upcoming scenes during the commercials *of the show you were currently watching*!)

                The most frustasting thing about the entire Coleman run is that she was super awesome in her debut episode as the Clever woman in red (whatever that episode title was called), and only seemed to get that groove back right around The Raven. (and was fully back in Hell Bent)

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                • K,
                  Kill the Moon really deserved to be killed.

                  Not sure whether you’re talking about “The Girl Who Died” or “The Woman Who Lived” — I think Maisie was a lot better in the latter than the former.

                  I haven’t seen the 10th season, and the reason you’ve lost the nonlinear time is because the guy who loved that sort of shit isn’t writing for Doctor Who anymore. (Seriously: a Flowchart for the Flowchart, and then an interactive assistant to explain the simplified flowchart to the other writers, who were having trouble keeping up.)

                  Yeah, Jenna played better as the whole thing went on, as she developed more Doktoring Skillz.

                  I suppose I’ll go write something about Doctor Who politics, and that may touch on why the beeb was previewing the same show that they were showing.

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                  • Kimmi:
                    Not sure whether you’re talking about “The Girl Who Died” or “The Woman Who Lived” — I think Maisie was a lot better in the latter than the former.

                    I think the reverse. I was underwhelmed by Me, but I don’t think that’s entirely on Williams. The key problem in my view is that she and the director(s) needed to arrive an agreement “hey, is Me going to be Arya Stark In Space, or Not That” and they split the difference. Which was an error in my view. One or the other would have been fine.

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                    • K,
                      The Girl Who Died suffered a mortal wound because it was supposed to be a two parter (yes, you could tell), and thus they had to stuff everything into one episode.

                      Yeah, I think they might have done better to either do Arya Stark in Space, or NOT That, and make it a bit clearer. Although, Cersei With A Knife In Victorian London does have a good ring to it… (I think Cersei does a better jade)

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  5. Speaking of this Doctor Who, I am curious about if they will change her personality. All of the modern Doctors except Number 9 have had some oddball quirky mannerisms/way of speaking. This was even true of Capaldi despite his “I’m Scottish! I can complain about things!” accent.

    I wonder if they think that will be too adorkable for a female Doctor and make her serious/cerebral ala Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange. I’ve not seen Broadchurch so I don’t know anything about the new Doctor’s acting chops.

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    • That’s an interesting point. Nearly all of the Doctors had something of a mad scientist/oddball element to their personality on them. I’d even suggest that Doctor 9 had some of this in the form of his eternal sense of wonder and non-plus attitude. This sort of oddball behavior can come across as too much MPDG and cutesy in a female actress if your not careful. An overly serious/cerebral Doctor will really change the tone of the show though.

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  6. Only a couple of people here have hit upon the poignant end to the OP:

    He wanted to avoid politics. In reality, his policy merely avoided controversy. These are not the same thing. He recognized that admitting blacks would be a political act. He missed the flip side, that excluding blacks was equally a political act. There is no opt-out provision available.

    I think there’s something timeless here that we can remember today, particularly for those of us who follow the day-to-day noise of things that float about social media. Two white women in Portland who own a taco truck have politics thrust upon them because other people have opinions.

    Turning to the example in the OP, it’s easy from our modern perspective to say that admitting blacks to the ball club would have been the morally right thing to do and Chadwick was a coward for avoiding the controversy. Chadwick was a man of his time, not ahead of his time, even though it’s clear enough to me that he could see a future in which there would be integrated ball clubs. Does his decision to wait for the culture to catch up rather than trying to catalyze the cultural movement exonerate him of moral cowardice?

    I think that’s the interesting question here, and as we consider that question it’s maybe worthwhile to note that in the original reporting of the newspaper story quoted in the OP, a “respectable” newspaper would have printed the entire unelided racial slurs that you see in the OP. It’s quite likely that no one at the time would have thought twice about it, not even the most “liberal” or “progressive” folks.

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    • Thank you. As for what a respectable paper would print, it certainly would print the unelided form in direct quotation.

      I have a good example in my notes, In 1869 Thomas Fitzgerald was trying to arrange an interracial game involving the Pythians. His first choice for the white club was the Athletics, who were the top team in Philadelphia. He ended up with the Olympics, who were probably the third best in town (and who easily beat the Pythians, so it was probably just as well he didn’t get the A’s). Here is Fitzgerald’s account of the Athletics’ reaction to the idea:

      Oh–but Fisler, who is a roaring, red-hot Democrat, objects; and so does that Black Republican Reach, and so does Cuthbert, and so does that other fine gentleman–that refined, educated, tasteful young gentleman–who says “the Pythians are damned n—–s! (Source: Philadelphia City Item August 7, 1869)”

      except that it was “damned” that was too racy to print. Fitzgerald was the owner of the City Item, so this clearly was his call. Fitzgerald, recall, was a radical Republican: as progressive on race as you would find at the time.

      The distinction is what a paper would use in the editorial voice, such as what June Rankin wrote in the Police Gazette. A respectable paper before the war might use the word, if it was pro-slavery. No northern paper after the war would admit to being pro-slavery, and the word dropped out of respectable use.

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