On this day in 1842, the great Russian war painter Vasily Vereshchagin was born. You know all those really cool war photojournalists who we see to this day? Well, before there were cameras, there were men like Vereshchagin. Of course, they were more like the great war poets of old. They were there to document the heroic acts of the men who manage wars. He did really beautiful work. I’m sure he romanticized it. How could you not? But I don’t know that much about him. I just wanted to present the following painting to you. It is called The Apotheosis of War and is dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come”:
The great character actor Jackie Coogan was born in 1914. He is known for two things. First, he was the original Uncle Fester in The Addams Family. Second, he was the title character in Charlie Chaplin’s film The Kid, which he made when he was 7 years old. He was absolutely adorable:
The great singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant is 50 today. I love her work, but she is a bit over-serious. I know, I know, life is a vale of tears. But there are other things: kittens, carnations, and hand puppets. But there is more than enough to be depressed about:
Other birthdays: Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685); philosopher and popularizer of Kant, Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1757); another mathematician who I don’t understand Ferdinand Georg Frobenius (1849); Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran (1919); actor Bob Hoskins (71); terrible game show host Pat Sajak (67); Hillary Clinton (66); Bolivian President Evo Morales (54); and actor Cary Elwes (51).
The day, however, belongs to the great third baseman Judy Johnson who was born on this day in 1899. Two years ago, I became obsessed with him and to a lesser extent the Negro League. I wrote this at the time:
For whatever reason, I became really interested in the great third baseman Judy Johnson. You can find out more about him at the Negro League Baseball Players Association, if you are interested. Probably the most important thing about him is that he was the first manager to break the color-barrier in Major League Baseball, when he coached for the Philadelphia Athletics. He was later a renowned talent scout, having discovered a number of great players including Dick Allen, who hit 351 home runs in his career.
As much as it is exciting and edifying to learn about Johnson and the many other great black players of his time, it is heartbreaking to read about what these men went through. The opportunity cost of baseball segregation was horrible for black players (and great for marginal white players). And as I think of it now, I suspect that when Judy Johnson was consistently batting over .300 (even though he was most know for his fielding skills) while making just a dollar a day, people were claiming there was no racism in the United States because he wasn’t a slave. It reminds me now of the belief that there is no racism because we have a black president.
Since I was reading about Johnson, this great video about him was posted on YouTube. It is really great to see:
Happy birthday Judy Johnson!