Sunday, April 4, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Is Assassinated

April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been there to help the city's all-black sanitation workers' union negotiate a better contract with the all-white City government.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, baseball was out of season. But the National Football League, already beginning its approach to becoming (apparently) more popular than baseball, was 48 hours from a new round of games, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle had to make a quick decision on whether to let the games go on. He did, and was ripped for it by the press and the public. The American Football League postponed its games.
Dr. King was not the President. But he was America's preeminent civil rights figure, and when his funeral was set for Atlanta on April 8, which was Opening Day for some Major League Baseball teams, many black players didn't want to play.

William "Spike" Eckert, the retired Air Force General who was then Commissioner of Baseball, considered both the wishes of the black players and the possibility of backlash of what would happen if he didn't, since several cities faced rioting in the wake of the assassination. So he went against expectations, and agreed to postpone the day's games.

So there were no Major League Baseball games played on that Thursday night. The National Football League was in its off-season. And the National Basketball Association was between rounds of Playoffs.

But the American Basketball Association, in its 1st season, played Game 1 of its Eastern Division Finals. The Pittsburgh Pipers beat the Minnesota Muskies, 125-117 at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. The Pipers went on to win the series, and beat the New Orleans Buccaneers in the finals, to win the 1st ABA Championships.

The National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Playoffs were scheduled to get underway that night, and were not rescheduled. The New York Rangers beat the Chicago Black Hawks, 3-1 at what was, 2 months into its use, still being called "The New Madison Square Garden Center." The Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins, 2-1 at the Montreal Forum. The St. Louis Blues beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 1-0 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. And the Los Angeles Kings beat the Minnesota North Stars, 2-1 at The Forum in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, California.

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Two months later, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy, JFK's brother, was assassinated while running for President, some players didn't want to play on the day of the funeral, June 8, 1968. Some of the black players got some of the white players to stand with them. Some teams agreed to postpone their games and make the next day a doubleheader. Some agreed to move their day games to night games. Some refused to do either, and the objecting players refused to play, and were fined.

Eckert didn't add any punishment for the players. This, plus his handling of the MLK assassination, may have led to his removal as Commissioner before the 1969 season. He was replaced with Bowie Kuhn, and I have no good things to say about him.

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