Baseball officials were lost in the aftermath.
Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. The assassination was a major part of the turbulent year of 1968 and it caused a problem for Major League Baseball although that paled in comparison to what was happening in the streets of America. The Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente did not want to play baseball on April 9, 1968 the day that the slain civil rights leader was going to be buried. The Pirates opener was scheduled for April 8 and it was not an appropriate time to play baseball. Clemente somehow was able to convince his Pirates teammates to not play on April 8 or 9, and the Pirates-Astros game was rescheduled for April 10.
Major League Baseball frankly did not know what to do in the days following the King assassination. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt instructed Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis to proceed as normal during World War II. But there was no official directive and team ownerships were left to decide what to do. Players like Bob Gibson also decided not to play until after the burial. Eventually Major League Baseball would postpone opening day until April 10 for all 20 teams. The Washington Senators ownership canceled the April 8, 1968 Presidential opener because of rioting in the city. Every team that was scheduled to play the home opener on April 9 decided to postpone the game except Walter O’Malley and his Los Angeles Dodgers, an odd decision because it was the Dodgers organization that hired Jackie Robinson in 1946. Los Angeles opponent on April 9 was the Philadelphia Phillies. O’Malley’s refusal to go along with the rest of baseball could have had extremely embarrassing consequences as Phillies players decided not to play which would have resulted in a forfeit. Eventually O’Malley backed down. No games were played on April 9. The players had spoken.
The King assassination brought baseball to a halt.