They don’t make ‘em like Rodney Lester anymore. Lester, who died Sunday at 98, had all the bona fides of what was exceptional about his generation of American Jews: a Brooklyn-born grandson of immigrants, he was a left-wing journalist whose only political obsession was civil rights, and whose only real obsession was baseball. His perch was the Communist Daily Worker, but his beat was sports and his writing was largely shorn of ideological hand-wringing. (He joined the Party, only to leave it when the Daily Worker suspended publication: his membership merely followed from his job.)
The one place where Lester was “political” were his insistent pleas, first lodged over a decade before Jackie Robinson put on the uniform of Lester’s beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, that Major League Baseball allow blacks to play. In 1942, he wrote in an open letter to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis:
Negro soldiers and sailors are among those beloved heroes of the American people who have already died for the preservation of this country and everything this country stands for—yes, including the great game of baseball. You, the self-proclaimed ‘Czar’ of baseball, are the man responsible for keeping Jim Crow in our National Pastime. You are the one refusing to say the word which would do more to justify baseball’s existence in this year of war than any other single thing.
No, they don’t make ‘em like Rodney Lester anymore.