Commentary

Saunders: ‘42’ movie brings a reminder of a column I’m not proud of

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 15, 2013 

Classless? Check this out.

I’ve snuck pickled pig’s feet into the movie theater – and watched as the scent sent other patrons fleeing to the exit.

I once wore my lime green, crushed velvet jumpsuit – similar to the one Fred Williamson wore in “Three the Hard Way” – after Labor Day.

Those affronts to good taste pale when set next to the most classless thing I ever did, though.

More than a decade ago, I went to the funeral of a man I didn’t like and wrote about him.

Enos Slaughter, the Hall of Fame St. Louis baseball player from Roxboro, was being buried there, and I thought I’d better alert the angels as to who was coming.

Slaughter was most famous – infamous? – for allegedly trying to lead a boycott to protest allowing Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in baseball. His other claim to infamy: stepping on Robinson’s leg with baseball spikes on a play at first base.

None of that excuses what I did in August 2002, when I went to Slaughter’s funeral and wrote about his alleged misanthropy.

See? Classless. The wounds of what Slaughter allegedly did intentionally and what I most definitely did intentionally were reopened this weekend in the hit movie “42,” about Robinson’s first year in the big leagues.

The scene in ‘42’

There in the movie, as it occurred 66 years ago, was Slaughter streaking down the first base line and stepping on Robinson’s leg, opening a seven-inch gash. Accounts differ over whether it was a close play at first or whether Slaughter was out by the proverbial mile.

Through the years, Slaughter denied ill will toward Robinson. Robinson simply said, “All I know is that I had my foot on the inside of the bag. I gave Slaughter plenty of room.”

Maybe in the years since Slaughter died, they’ve had a chance to hash it out on the field of dreams. Of course, there is a chance they went to different places and never had a chance or desire to re-hash or to make amends.

But I do. Here goes: Regardless of how abominably I thought Slaughter behaved toward Robinson, I behaved worse toward Slaughter because dead men can’t defend themselves.

But their daughters can. Can they ever.

‘That was my daddy’

Several months ago, I received a letter from Slaughter’s daughter, Sharon. It wasn’t profane or even angry, but she got her point across strongly. Both in the letter and when I spoke with her this week, she was much nicer to me than I would’ve been.

“That was my daddy,” she wrote. “I was so upset. ... Don’t go to someone’s funeral unless you know them and have some good memories of them. You did not know my Dad and had no right to be there or write the ugly article you did the next day. My Dad was a good man and he did many, many good things for the folks right down the road. When they needed money, he loaned it to them, never to be repaid. ...

“Barry, let me share one last story with you. When I was in high school. ... I was vice-president of an awesome Drama Club. ... I was in charge of setting up our end of the year party. I called the Roxboro Country Club to reserve a night for our party and guess what? I was told we could not have the party there because of one reason. Do you know what that was?

“Our Drama Club had 3 black members. So what did I do? I had the party at my house!! My mom and dad had no problem with who came to our house. I tell you all of this because sometimes people do not always know the whole story.”

No, they don’t.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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