In a recent commentary, Professor Stephen J.K. Walters of Loyola University Maryland tried to present a short history of racism in baseball ("Lessons from a 'white man's' game," Oct. 5). His chief bogeyman was Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson. Mr. Walters fingered Anson for having had a huge effect in the 1880s on segregating the sport. The professor would have been perfectly fine in making his case if he said it is a speculative one and if he had repeated some of his own measured prose on the subject in the 2011 "The Oxford Handbook of Sports Economics Volume 2: Economics Through Sports." Mr. Walters contributed that book's first chapter.

In the book, Mr. Walters argued that Anson in the mid-1880s "made clear his preference for segregated leagues and his status as the most famous player of his time doubtless emboldened others to act on their prejudices." In his commentary, Mr. Walters ran roughshod over his book's prose, writing instead that as of the mid-1880s, "Anson had by then persuaded many of his fellow white players that blacks posed a threat to their jobs. They promised boycotts if owners integrated their workplace, so the owners soon implemented a 'gentleman's agreement' not to do so."

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It is one thing to argue that Anson, then the captain-manager of the National League's Chicago team, emboldened others. It is another thing to say he actually persuaded them. Emboldening is providing others with indirect encouragement. Persuasion means that he convinced them. No such evidence exists that links Anson to white players outside his own big league team.

In a long essay earlier this year, I investigated the range of "blame Anson" writing related to the drawing of organized baseball's "color line" which kept blacks out of the sport, with rare exception, until Jackie Robinson's arrival in 1946. In my 2006 Anson biography, I had previously analyzed the few charges made against him for having had so much negative influence. Much of the singling out of Anson was done either in an article in a black newspaper in 1892 or in a 1907 book by 19th-century black minor league player Sol White. The claims in the article and the book not only have no support in the contemporaneous record, but some of the detail is directly at odds with what was reported involving particular players and managers. In my essay, one of my strongest conclusions is that a fairer argument than claiming that Anson was an architect of baseball segregation is "that he was a reinforcer of it."

Anson personally was opposed to playing in games against black players, at least during his major league career. But the connection between Anson's position on the subject and the most momentous pro-segregation decision by a top minor league of the day, the International League, in July 1887, is speculative. For example, there is no evidence that owners were worried "that similar showdowns could mean the loss of considerable gate receipts." What there is evidence of is hostility within the International League to its having adding several black players that season beyond its 1886 total of one, to reach a high of seven. Right after the vote, the sports weekly Sporting Life reported, "Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary [C.D.] White to approve of no more contracts with colored men."

As I wrote in my essay earlier this year, "Anson was symbolically important in early baseball for his integrity," in being a staunch figure against the influence of professional gamblers on the sport. "But his personality, which was contrarian and 'bluff and gruff,' arguably made him someone unlikely for others — other than his own teammates — to have been persuaded or compelled to follow on controversial matters involving, on some level, personal taste."

The public can always benefit from a color line story that has a happy ending. But the arguably more important line that historians themselves need to be observing is the one between fact and speculation.

Howard W. Rosenberg, Arlington, Va.

The writer is the author of a four-book series on early baseball featuring Adrian "Cap" Anson.

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