Growing up in Brooklyn, the great pride of my neighborhood was that Jackie Robinson's mother lived in walking distance. Jackie would visit there from time to time, but I have to admit I was never lucky enough to spy him personally.
In the mid-1940s, the Detroit Tigers were at the top of baseball, winning the American League pennant in 1945 and finishing in second place the following two years. Their fortunes turned, however, in the next decade, as the Tigers finished among the top three teams in their league only once and found themselves in last place in 1952, winning only fifty games while losing over one hundred.
What happened? While many things contribute to a team's victory on the field, we shouldn't overlook the impact of baseball's integration. After Jackie Robinson's major league debut in 1947, the Cleveland Indians, for example, immediately signed African-American talent such as Larry Doby and Satchel Paige and won the pennant and the World Series in 1948. By contrast, Walter Briggs, owner of the Tigers, refused to sign any African Americans, and the Tigers dropped from second to fifth place in 1948 and continued to spiral down the standings throughout the 1950s.
The sad story of the Detroit Tigers illuminates another facet of the morality of capitalism: It makes immoral decisions such as bigotry expensive. Briggs could insist on preserving racial barriers only at the cost of fewer wins and, by extension, fewer fans (Who wants to pay good money to see a bad team?). In a free market, artificial limitations on potential employees and customers mar the product and cripple the firm. By contrast, firms that want to remain competitive will seek talent and markets wherever they may be found. And this drive to remain competitive prompts firms to more open patterns of hiring, buying, and selling.
The Acton Institute has spent the past ten years demonstrating such moral aspects of the free economy to our future religious leaders; I look forward to your continued support of our mission throughout the next decade. Thank you.
Fr. Robert A. Sirico