Friday, April 19, 2019

Visiting Column #14 -- Kate Smith and Mickey Mantle

I truly don't have to come up with more reasons to hate the New York Yankees.  I dislike the city itself, can't abide being there (it was tolerable when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, but not before or since), and truly despise the team itself.  It has always been a pretty strong negative feeling for me toward the team, but it got worse as I grew up and realized that they could simply buy whomever they wanted for their lineup, and other teams couldn't.

The point is that it doesn't take much for me to generate more dislike for the Yankees.  Duh.

So when they actually do something really stupid, I have to celebrate, even if there is nothing good actually to celebrate, other than perhaps getting others to share my contempt for the organization.  And man, did they go south on the IQ meter.

As you know, during games, the National Anthem is played or sung (or both) before the start of the game.  Since around 9/11 or so, it has also been customary to perform "God Bless America", the great patriotic number, during the seventh-inning stretch.  Even prior to 9/11, that was a custom in some places.

At Yankee Stadium, it had been a tradition to play a recording of Kate Smith (1907-1986) singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, and that was how their stretches went for many, many years.

Well, not now.

Back in 1931, as a young singer, Kate Smith recorded a song called "That's Why Darkies Were Born", from a musical of the time.  Now, the setting was satirical, even for 1931; the song was meant to satirize racism, not reflect it, in the context in which it was written, set and sung.  Paul Robeson, one of the great black singers in that era, it should be noted, also recorded it.  And Robeson was not exactly a shrinking violet about race issues.

So somewhere along the line, someone dug up a recording of Kate Smith singing "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and decided to whip up a frenzy about it.  They cast Kate Smith as a racist on the basis of that recording alone, ignoring the satiric context, and the inconvenient fact that Robeson also recorded it. And, I suppose, they ignored whether there is any actual evidence of her being racist.

But the Yankees, morons that they are, decided that anyone who would record that is unfit to have her voice played in the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium.  That's where we stand right now, and I'll bet you $2.75 Canadian that you never hear Kate Smith at Yankee Stadium again.

OK, fine.  Darned if those Yankees will ever have their overpriced seats besmirched by some accused racist singer!

Except there's kind of another inconvenient fact that the Yankees may have to confront.

Just beyond the center-field wall in the House That Money Built, is an area called Monument Park, where the Yankees have put up granite monuments to honor former players and managers, and where they have hung their numerous retired numbers.  It succeeds the version that was in the first Yankee Stadium, and is assumedly more elaborate.  People tour that area, though I have never been there and have no reason to.

Now Mickey Mantle, good old number 7, is honored with a plaque and a retired number out there.  The Mick has been dead for a while, but his memory is there for the looking if anyone wanders around Monument Park, and there is no plan to do anything about it.

But maybe they should.

I have probably noted, a few hundred columns back, that as a reader, I prefer books about baseball, and strongly prefer biographies from the very, very few writers capable of doing the detailed, painstaking research needed to bring these people to life.  For every brilliant Ted Williams bio written by Ben Bradlee or Leigh Montville, there are forty books that are simply pap, lightly researched and just out there to waste paper and sell fodder.

One author, though, whose works are truly inspiring in the diligence of their research is Jane Leavy, the Washington-based author of works on Sandy Koufax, Babe Ruth and ... Mickey Mantle.  I have read her first two and am, as I write this, a quarter through "The Last Boy", her work on Mantle.

There is, of course, a wealth of legend and some generally-known facts about Mantle that we've always had.  He was the "Commerce Comet", out of Commerce, Oklahoma, that the men in his family died young, and that he was an outsized drinker, partier and carouser who thought he, too, would not see age 40.  And, of course, he was a great switch-hitting outfielder with huge power, an MVP and Triple Crown winner, lots of World Series, all that stuff we always knew.

Leavy has, through extensive research, interviews, and all the things we wish all writers did, broken down Mantle's youth and what made him the person he was.  And one thing that person was will not exactly please the Yankees.

Commerce, Oklahoma was quite white.  It was a zinc and lead-mining town, mostly "mined out" by the time Mantle was a child in the '30s and '40s, and lead miners in Oklahoma were not exactly the most racially sensitive folks out there.  That's how Mantle grew up, as a professional baseball player signing right after high school, in an organization that did not integrate until Elston Howard joined the team years later, well, you get the idea.

So perhaps, heaving read of his upbringing, I was less startled than many to hear that it was something the young ballplayer did, when Leavy related Mantle lowering a car window to yell at a black man in the streets to "take a bath", after regarding him with an unpublishable epithet.

We don't do that in 2019.  We don't imagine anyone doing that in 2019.  But the familiar racism of the era of Mantle's youth seems extreme even for that era, simply unprovoked verbal attacks starting with race.

I know our instinct is to write it off as "the times", but the Yankees have put themselves in an ugly and uncomfortable place now.  How, I have to ask, do they square maintaining a monument to a player of well-documented racist attitudes, with banning the playing of the recording of a singer for having done a song that was, in actuality, a satire on those attitudes?

Paul Robeson, by the way was not only a singer but played in the NFL, which black players could do then.  Suppose instead of football, he had played baseball -- as a Yankee.  And, let's say, he had been great enough for a monument in Yankee Stadium.  It's not that big a stretch; he certainly was a professional athlete.

He recorded the exact same song.  They banned Kate Smith for not a single racist accusation, save for the singing of that particular song.  What would they do with Robeson, who did the exact same thing?

And let's face it, although in his later years Mickey Mantle took far more racially-accommodating positions (again, as documented in Leavy's book), he was not only clearly more backward in his racial attitudes, for a goodly portion of his life, than Kate Smith ever was, but is honored in Monument Park a whole lot more than she is.  How do the Yankees possibly not have to pull down his plaque?

I don't know how this will end, but boy, it has to.

I'm just glad the ones most embarrassed by it are the Yankees.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Visiting Column #13 -- Tax Returns, Subpoenas and Stalin

As I start this, the Democrats in Congress, through their various committees, are trying to do a subpoena of President Trump's tax returns for some number of years back.  They are threatening to hold someone or other in contempt if they don't get their way.

At the same time, over in Moscow, Vladimir Putin is doing what Putin does, whatever that may be, but I am assuming that along the way it involves (or includes) taking care of his opposition one way or the other.  After all, he has no real challenge to his power, so he can do as he likes, and that includes arranging for opposition to disappear somehow.

I don't think we want to get there in this country.

Barack Obama tried, allowing his FBI to be corrupted into becoming an espionage agency on an American political candidate who opposed his hand-picked successor, Hillary Clinton.  The political cruds at the top of the FBI used a fraudulent opposition-research document as an excuse to spy on Americans even without a crime being suspected or, as we now know, having been committed.

And now the Democrats in the House are trying to pull a very Putin-like trick, having failed to keep Donald Trump from being elected, and then failing at trying to use the FBI's corrupt leadership to get him out of office.  They are searching for a crime where none is known to exist.

Now I suppose that I'd rather have seen Barack Obama's transcript in college, than Trump's 1040s.  After all, I understand college transcripts, where I'm less convinced on the tax returns that I could properly interpret them, even though I have a lot of experience in that area -- enough to know what is not going to be found there.

Donald Trump was part owner of a huge construction company for most of his life.  That was his primary source of income and, given the vagaries of the construction biz, it can be safely assumed that his income ran all over the place, maybe $500 million one year, $1.5 billion the next, $400 million the year after, and so on.

But that income came through the business.  I assume he was paid a huge salary that was a regular amount, and then on top of that, he would have paid taxes on income that flowed through to him depending on how the Trump Organization is organized as a corporation (it is an LLC, so I assume net income flows to its owners).  Plus, there were books and other revenue streams as well.

I assume that there is almost nothing that a tax return could provide as far as insight into the business, unless they were to try to get their hands on the business returns, which is a whole 'nother thing.

So at what point is someone going to stand up and ask the logical two questions:

(1) What crime, specifically, is the president suspected of having committed, when?
(2) What compelling evidence exists of that crime that warrants subpoena of personal information?

You see, absent an actual crime, Congress has no business looking for that kind of material and, given the intelligence of the Democrats' leading voice, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, it can be very, very safely assumed that they have no more capacity to understand a tax return than my cat does.  And I have a very intelligent cat.  Does AOC even realize that all the dealings of the Trump Organization would be totally absent from his personal return, save the little detail from the Schedule K-1?  Does she know what a K-1 is?

But it's the absence of a crime that bothers me.  This is not Putin's Russia, and it's not Stalin's Soviet Union, and Putin learned from those who learned from Stalin. 

The very first time that a Congress goes off on a "Here's the person, find us a crime" investigation, it sets a precedent that such behavior is OK, and once it is used by one party, it is fair game for another.  I would like to think that the Republicans are better than that, but if it took that to unwind the dirt of the Clinton Foundation, I'm not sure they could hold back in a future situation.

I can read a tax return, my friends.  I used to prepare them professionally, and I know what is and is not in them.  Having heard what some of the morons on the left say they think they'll find in Trump's 1040 tells me that they're going to have to invent a lot of interpretations that aren't there to explain what I expect will be found -- what won't be.

But then again, when the economy tanked under their president and roared under the current one, I suppose they have to do something.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton