No One Took A Knee, But A Political Controversy Led To Player Boycott Fifty Years Ago

In light of the assassination of the man who would likely become the next President of the United States, the man in the Oval Office declared a national day of mourning on the ninth of June. Because of the sadness, and to share their respect for the slain senator, a group of players decided to boycott their games scheduled for that day.

Although such a situation sounds like something that could be happening in the current world of sports, when protests are frequently in the headlines, this case happened exactly fifty years ago today. Robert Kennedy, the leading candidate to be voted in as the next President in the upcoming election, was assassinated on June 9, 1968.

When Johnson announced a national day or mourning, members of the Cincinnati Reds urged baseball officials to postpone the double header scheduled for that day. Because their words fell on deaf ears, the players decided that they were going to boycott the games.

The protest was led by a multiracial tandem, white pitcher Milt Pappas and African-American All-Star outfielder Vada Pinson. The two managed to get just enough votes from their teammates to approve their idea to stay in the clubhouse rather than go onto the baseball field, as a statement about the assassination of the important Democratic candidate for President.

Just like the front offices in the sports world of today, the executives of Cincinnati expressed wrath at the players’ refusal to participate in the games. General Manager Bob Howsam was especially peeved, and he requested skipper Dave Bristol to find nine volunteers to play.

Future batting king Pete Rose soon left the clubhouse with glove in hand, along with Rookie of the Year Tommy Helms and ace starting pitcher Jim Maloney. Not long after that, the rest of the team reported to the field and the games were played.

However hesitant those players might have been, the Reds jumped out to an eight to nothing lead by the fourth inning. St. Louis rebounded in the fifth, compiling ten runs of their own to win game one 10-8.

The Cardinals rode that momentum into the second game, charging out to a six to one lead. Cincinnati, as the Cardinals had done in the opener, rallied in the fifth to tie the game.

Deadlocked for the next six frames, the score finally changed in a twelfth inning that involved three future Hall of Famers. Left hander Steve Carlton, in his third inning of relief for the Cardinals, gave up a lead off single to Cincinnati first baseman Lee May.

Third baseman Tony Perez reached on a fielder’s choice, but would have to wait to advance because Carlton struck out catcher Johnny Bench. Perez did make it to second, and the all the way to the plate, after shortstop Leo Cardenas doubled him home with the winning run.

Although the Reds managed a split, Pete Rose may have wished he had stayed in the clubhouse that day. The perennial .300 hitter managed just one hit in times at the plate.

Vada Pinson, on the other hand, was probably glad his boycott had been averted. He went a combined four for ten with a home run and five runs batted in during the twin bill.

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