'After Jackie' documentary honors the second wave of Black baseball players After Jackie, a new History Channel documentary, tells the stories of three of the Black baseball players who followed Jackie Robinson into the major leagues.

Black baseball players struggled long after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's often said that Jackie Robinson opened the door for Black baseball players to enter the majors, but that was just the first door. Turns out, a lot of doors stood between Black players and equality. There's a new documentary on the History Channel tomorrow called "After Jackie." It focuses on three more legends that followed, all with the Saint Louis Cardinals, in the 1960s - Bill White, Bob Gibson and Curt Flood. Here's director Andre Gaines.

ANDRE GAINES: What we see in Jackie Robinson is a player first, and then he becomes an activist in his retirement. With Bill, Bob and Curt, it's the sort of first wave in our nation's history of the player activist, something that we kind of take for granted today - these guys who are actually playing at the highest level possible but still standing up and fighting for their rights, not only economically speaking, in the case of Curt Flood, but also against discrimination.

MARTINEZ: Let's hear Bob Gibson talking about when he reported to spring training in St. Petersburg - that was 1961 - along with his catcher, Tim McCarver, who's white.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AFTER JACKIE")

BOB GIBSON: The Bainbridge Hotel is where the Cardinals headquarters were. I took my bag and went into the Bainbridge. And I said, my name is Bob Gibson, and I'm with the Cardinals and you're supposed to have a place for me. And he says, yeah, we have a place for you. He said, you go out that door right over there and then right outside there's a cab sitting there, and you tell him you want him to take you to Mrs. Johnson. That's where all the guys are staying. I said, all the guys are staying there. He says, yeah, pretty much.

TIM MCCARVER: The white players were staying with the white players, and the Black players would go to a place called Colored Town.

GIBSON: Really, I was disappointed because I knew that that stuff existed, but I'd never really run into it where it was as blatant as it was. They were right in your face.

MARTINEZ: So, Andre, considering how successful Jackie Robinson was and this idea that things are better possibly after his breakthrough, what did this kind of thing signal to players like Bob Gibson and his Black teammates about where they stood in baseball and in America?

GAINES: Well, things were not getting better. As a matter of fact, in many cases, things got quite worse. When you look at Jackie Robinson, he had the whole world's eyes on him, all the cameras, all the attention. But the second wave of guys, I mean, namely Bill White, Bob Gibson and Curt Flood, they were doing it without anybody really watching. So they were subject to a lot of overt discrimination and just flat out racism, especially in the Jim Crow South. And that didn't make it any better or any worse necessarily. But it did, you know, strike at the heart of morale for these teammates who were trying to just play at the highest level possible while still having to deal with just trying to find a place to lay their head.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Because when I think of some of the best teams in sports, they'll all say that some of the strongest bonds they create are not necessarily when they're playing or practicing but when they're just hanging out...

GAINES: That's right.

MARTINEZ: ...When they're just having dinner, when they're just doing what normal people do that are in a workplace. But they weren't able to do that. At least these Cardinal teams weren't because they were in separate hotels.

GAINES: Yeah, that's really one of the highlights of our film. When Bill White had spoken with August Busch, who was the heir to the Budweiser fortune and actually the owner of the Cardinals team, about trying to figure out a way to get integrated housing for the for the players because they all wanted to stay together, but they weren't allowed to do that in the Deep South, he ends up buying a hotel, the Outrigger Inn, and the team is able to stay there together. And we say we have all of these photographs of them just barbecuing together, on - going out on boats together, hanging out. It's that camaraderie that really Tim McCarver, Bill White, these guys really credit to the success of the Cardinals team.

MARTINEZ: So in 1964, the Cardinals, led by White, Gibson and Flood, eventually got good enough to win the National League pennant and get to the World Series. Let's listen to a Curt Flood describing that feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AFTER JACKIE")

CURT FLOOD: Most of us felt an aura about us that made us very special. And I guess it had to do with - a lot with the fact that we were such a mixed up group of guys and that we were overcoming all of the prejudice and all the BS. During that very, very difficult time, there was something about us that drew us together, even within the troubles that we were having as Blacks and as whites. And here we were living together and winning together and sharing together and enjoying each other. And it was an amazing turn of events.

MARTINEZ: So, Andre, this Cardinals club won the World Series over the Yankees in '64 and then over the Red Sox in '67. How would you say that success, the way Curt Flood described it, helped further the civil rights movement?

GAINES: Really in two ways - one in being able to showcase the pure athleticism of these guys at really the highest level. On the other hand, I think the fact that what they were doing off the field, like, you know, Curt Flood going down with Jackie Robinson to a march in Greenwood, Miss., they were, frankly, just trying to survive. They didn't realize necessarily what the final result of that would be. I mean, Curt Flood is a perfect example of this, of somebody who opened the door for free agency, what we now call free agency. He was just trying to be properly paid and live in a city where his family was and just trying to do basic things to survive. But what they did was just open it up for so many generations of us to participate in and the positive results of that.

MARTINEZ: And specifically for Bob Gibson, who was the Cardinals ace No. 1 starting pitcher, I think his success also showed, if you can believe it, that there was this thought that Black players could not handle thinking positions. In baseball, that would be a starting pitcher or maybe a shortstop, the leadership role. It is amazing that even when Bob Gibson's success, that that didn't translate to leadership roles right away. It still has taken a long time and, probably for a lot of people, not fast enough.

GAINES: No, it's true. I mean, the sad reality kind of right now is that about 8% of the league is African American, which was about the same when Jackie Robinson actually retired. There was a huge renaissance, especially of Black players all through kind of the '70s, '80s, '90s, up through Ken Griffey Jr., who is someone we talk to in the film. But they do make mention, Ken Griffey Jr., Mookie Betts, who's in the film, CC Sabathia who's in the film, that they need to do more to get Black kids and brown kids playing the game again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: That's Andre Gaines, director of "After Jackie." It premieres tomorrow on the History Channel. Andre, thanks a lot.

GAINES: Thank you so much for having me.

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