‘A Long Way From Home’ doc showcases Black baseball players’ perseverance

Stephon Johnson | 2/1/2018, 11:29 a.m.
The tale of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier and ringing in an age when talent could triumph has been ...

The tale of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier and ringing in an age when talent could triumph has been well chronicled. But what about the baseball players of color that immediately followed him? What about their stories?

“A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation,” directed by Gaspar Gonzalez, speaks of the Black and Afro-Latino players who followed the footprints of Robinson and integrated other teams in Major League Baseball. As stated in the documentary, it took 13 years for all 16 teams in MLB at the time to integrate, and even once they did players said that they still felt tokenized and marginalized.

The documentary (which premieres Feb. 18 at 12 p.m. on TV One) tells the story of players such as James “Mudcat” Grant, Grover Jones, J.R. Richard, Grover “Deacon” Jones, Octavio “Cookie” Rojas, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez and the struggles they faced after being signed, coming up through the minor leagues and making their way to the majors.

As diverse as baseball can be (despite the declining number of Black players in the sport), baseball has been staunchly conservative personality wise and the culture of the sport isn’t fond of change and displays of individuality.

Black players were often unfairly criticized for allegedly faking injuries and not hustling on the field and dealt with unspoken quotas of one Black player per roster. For Black players to thrive in the majors, they had to be great. Black players in minors (many minor league teams are in the South and Midwest) had to deal with racial taunts from the crowd, opposing players and even teammates. They also had to deal with the lack of bonding on the road when it came time to eat.

“Either we had to wait for the white players to bring a sandwich back or we had to go across the railroad tracks to find sandwiches,” said Hank Aaron in an old clip used in the documentary. “It was unfair because even if we had to go to the other side of town, we were expected to be back at the same time for baseball.”

The story of Robinson integrating the major leagues is bookended by Curt Flood’s fight for the right of players to be free agents and choose where they want to play. The salaries of current baseball players are a direct result of Flood’s battle against unfair contracts (that cost him his career and led to him being blackballed by the sport). “A Long Way From Home” clocks in at 42 minutes and is worth your time. It gets straight to the point and shows the viewer just how much these men had to overcome to become some of the greatest baseball players ever.

“A Long Way From Home” reminds you that Black and Afro-Latino baseball players dragged the sport kicking and screaming into progress and need to be thanked for their service.