‘Harmful’ team name in baseball league with Hamilton, Welland clubs quickly struck


Published January 30, 2023 at 5:13 pm

The Chatham-Kent entry in the Intercounty Baseball League is already making its first substitution.

The IBL expansion club announced last Friday that it would be known as the “Blackbirds” when it takes the field in 2024 as an opponent of clubs such as the Hamilton Cardinals and Welland Jackfish. The moniker was chosen after a community-wide Name The Team contest.

Chatham has a unique place in African-Canadian history due to the area having been the northern terminus of the Underground Railroad, which was the route that enslaved African-Americans used in the mid-1800s to escape to free states and to Canada. The team is also slated to play at Fergie Jenkins Field, which is named for the Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher who is connected to a historically significant baseball team that represented the city. The Chatham Coloured All-Stars of the 1930s were recently inducted into Canada Sports Hall of Fame. They have also been featured in the MLB The Show video game and in a Ontario Lottery and Gaming Co. commercial featuring Ferguson Jenkins, whose father played for the all-stars. Jenkins is also slated to be the club’s honorary president.

Monday, the Chatham-Kent club said it received community feedback which shared that the term is connected to slavery and coercive and exploitative labour practices. It has agreed to find another nickname, which will be announced soon.

“The Chatham-Kent IBL club has made plans to change its name to better reflect the diverse cultural history of the community,” a post on the club’s Facebook page read on Monday. “As an organization, we welcome all conversations and discussions that help us to grow, foster and nurture our team in a manner that evokes a feeling of inclusion and pride consistent with the community and the rich tradition of baseball. We regret any harm the chosen name may have caused.

“This decision was made following important community feedback surrounding the historical derogatory use of the term ‘blackbird’ and ‘blackbirding’ that may be harmful to some members of our community.

“Historically, the term ‘blackbirding’ involves the coercion of people through deception or kidnapping to work as slaves or poorly paid labourers in countries distant from their native land.

“Management and ownership thank our valued community members for bringing these details to their attention and wish to thank the club’s executive for acting quickly to make a change.”

Dom Dinelle of Trois-Rivières, Que., who had a 12-year pro playing career and also scouted for two Major League Baseball franchises, is the chair of the new Chatham-Kent team. When the team was greenlit in November, Jackfish chair and IBL executive Ryan Harrison said the league was “excited” to add Dinelle and Chatham-Kent to the league.

The IBL will be an eight-team loop for the ’23 campaign, with a mid-May to August regular-season schedule. The playoffs normally conclude in mid-September.

The Cardinals will be the Jackfish’s opening day opponent on May 18. The Cardinals’ home opener at Bernie Arbour Stadium is May 19 in a playoff rematch against the Guelph Royals, whom the Cardinals defeated in the IBL quarterfinal round last season.

Jenkins, who turned 80 last month, is one of two Canadian-born players who has been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.. A right-handed starting pitcher, he played in the majors from 1966 to ’83, primarily with the Chicago Cubs and also with the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers.

Baseball-Reference.com lists Jenkins 14th in Wins Above Replacement among pitchers whose careers took place primarily or entirely after the racial integration of MLB in 1947, when Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby respectively became the first Black players in the National and American leagues. Jenkins also led his leagues five times apiece in strikeouts-to-base on balls or ratio and fewest bases on balls per nine innings pitched.

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