Today may be tax day for some, teabag day for nuts, but for those who love baseball, it is Jackie Robinson Day.
The NY Times Reports:
There will be No. 42s everywhere on Wednesday as Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, which came on April 15, 1947. Commissioner Bud Selig has asked that all managers, coaches and players on the 30 major league teams wear Robinson’s number as a sign of unified support for the anniversary, which marks the breaking of baseball’s color barrier
JACKIE ROBINSON: A LIFE STORY
From the official Jackie Robinson website:
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only black family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.
Jackie at UCLA Growing up in a large, single-parent family, Jackie excelled early at all sports and learned to make his own way in life. At UCLA, Jackie became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. In 1941, he was named to the All-American football team. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to leave college, and eventually decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. After two years in the army, he had progressed to second lieutenant. Jackie’s army career was cut short when he was court-martialed in relation to his objections with incidents of racial discrimination. In the end, Jackie left the Army with an honorable discharge. In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. But greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
Jackie sliding into home plate
At the end of Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year.
I was born in 1947, in Brooklyn, in the same year Robinson integrated the big leagues. My aunt’s husband Ed Stone was a star baseball player in the Negro Leagues, earning about $175 a month. My dad played tennis and was national Negro Champion. He was not allowed to compete with whites, except in unofficial tourneys.
I was raised as a Dodger fan; we were not allowed to mention the hated Yankee’s in our home. I have fond memories of my grandfather taking me out to Ebbets Field every week. Jackie breaking the color barrier in baseball was an inspiration to my family, and all of our friends.
The nation was initially divided on whether Robinson should be allowed to play. Virtually all blacks and many whites applauded the decision as long overdue, but a large number of whites also objected, as did many major league players. Most newspapers supported the move. Robinson’s integration and subsequent high level of play was a major blow to segregation and caused racial barriers to fall in other areas. Robinson criticized hotels that did not allow him to stay with his teammates, and a number of hotels and restaurants that the Dodgers frequented integrated as a result.
During his first season with the Dodgers, Robinson encountered racism from fans and players, which included his own teammates. He anticipated that some pitchers would aim pitches at his head and that other players would try to hit, tackle, and even try to push him off the basepaths. Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The brewing mutiny ended when Dodger management took a stand for Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher informed the team, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” When other teams, notably the St. Louis Cardinals, threatened to strike if Robinson played, National League President Ford Frick let it be known that they would be suspended.
On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players called Jackie a “nigger” from their dugout and yelled that he should “go back to the cotton fields.” Rickey would later recall that Phillies manager Ben Chapman “did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men.” In front of KeySpan Park there is a statue of Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Robinson. It commemorates a piece of baseball folklore: that in 1947 Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who had shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinnati. This story stood for decades as a symbol of racial tolerance but later became a source of controversy. That Reese put his arm around Robinson is not in dispute, but it probably happened in 1948. Reese also once came to his friend’s defense with the famous line “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.”
I tip my cap to you Jackie Robinson.
Wearing #42 on my heart today.