St. Louis essayist, scholar, and commentator Gerald Early has been recognized with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop. A longtime professor at Washington University, where he directed the Center for the Humanities for many years, Professor Early has edited a number of influential books, including Miles Davis and American Culture (2001) and Ain’t but a Place: An Anthology of African American Writings About St. Louis (1998).
In “Curt Flood, Gratitude, and the Image of Baseball,” an essay from his latest collection, A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports (2011), Early offers a rich portrayal of the iconic Cardinals player, who was a portrait painter in his spare time. He situates Flood’s story in the larger narrative of the fallout from the civil rights movement and growing resistance among black athletes to their treatment by the moneyed elites of sports ownership. Early describes baseball, memorably, as “a sport, more than any other, that fosters incredible national self-deception.” I can wholeheartedly recommend this essay as a welcoming entry point to Early’s work.
At the Delmar Loop ceremony on April 11, Early spoke about a baseball game he’d played in as a child in working-class Philadelphia, when he struck out several times and was humiliated in front of the team. Despite this, however, he put on his catcher’s mitt and went back out on the field, where he was plowed over by an opposing runner, but nevertheless managed to tag him out, hold onto the ball, and become the hero of the game.
“I learned everything from that game,” Early said. “First, I learned that while I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be, I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. And that I didn’t need to be better than everyone else. I only needed to be the best at the crucial moment when it counted most.
“Second, the only way to stop being embarrassed and humiliated was to get better. There is a certain kernel of cruelty in all learning. Third, from time to time, you need someone who believes in your possibilities to tell you to trust your stuff, as they say in baseball, because God does indeed hate a coward.”
Professor Early’s speech can be read in full here.
The star honoring Gerald Early will be installed at 6263 Delmar Blvd, once construction is finished at that site. Congratulations to Professor Early on this well-deserved honor.