As a boy I had a love affair with the Brooklyn Dodgers. I used to make up my own score cards as I listened faithfully to those beloved bums on WHN Radio with the old redhead himself, Red Barber and his counterpart, Connie Desmond.
In 1947, I was 14 years old. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was a 28 year old rookie in the Majors. He was also breaking the longstanding color barrier.
I lived in Maspeth a small country like town then and an all-white neighborhood. I also attended an all- white Junior High School – PS 73. I knew nothing of racism, all I knew was that this black talented rookie was helping my Dodgers become a contender once again. I never realized the pressures this magnificent pioneer athlete was going through until later years when I started to read about the life of this gallant warrior. He had to be a warrior for the unjust test he was being put through to open the door for others. No athlete in any other sport anywhere ever went through what he did. He not only prevailed as a superstar player but a superstar person overcoming racism at its worst.
Jackie was the only player ever not allowed to have a room mate and not able to eat with the rest of his teammates while playing on the road. Earlier, while playing in the Negro Leagues, Jackie had a pretty short fuse and would speak up quickly when he thought there was an unfair call. He had to change his whole attitude for two years, 1946 at Montreal and 1947. How many of us could change our natural ways for two minutes when faced with injustices. What a strong individual this man was knowing that one or two outbursts and he could set back the cause for many years. He knew his first job was to open the door for other black players. This job was so tough that when Robinson first met with Branch Rickey, he gave Jackie the book Pampinis Life of Christ knowing this would help him through his journey he was to travel.
In Jackie's first year with Brooklyn, Ben Chapman, manager of the Phillies was perhaps the worst of Robinson's hecklers-continually making racial remarks. Every time the teams met, black cats were thrown on the field from the Philadelphia dugout. Only when Chapman found out his job was in jeopardy for his continuous unjust attacks against Jackie did he stop. He then asked Leo Durosher to ask Jackie to pose for a picture with him for the newspapers, not because he liked Jackie but because he was trying to save his own butt. It didn't work however, Chapman was fired shortly after Jackie agreed to take the picture.
In Robinson's first year in Brooklyn, the attendance rose over half a million over the previous year. More people, many blacks obviously but also many white Dodger fans filled those seats.
After the season Rickey gave Jackie a seven thousand dollar raise from $5,000 a year to $12,000. Could this be the primary reason Rickey broke the color barrier?
In Jackie's first three years in the Majors he had 39 bunt singles. Today some divisions don't have that many. If Jackie thought the pitcher deliberately hit him or tried to he would lay a bunt down the first baseline making sure the pitcher had to field the ball. He would then knock him down if the pitcher got too close to the basepath. Jackie got a bad reputation for this from unknowledgeable fans – it wasn't dirty it was just getting even.
Jackie Robinson was the most exciting base runner ever, he disrupted pitcher after pitcher with his daring leads especially from third base. With both arms fully extended jogging back and forth the pitchers couldn't concentrate on the batter which led to many walks and fast balls that the batters knew were coming. Jackie holds the record for stealing home seven times in one season. The crowds at Ebbets would stand up when he would attempt the most exciting play of the game “The steal of home.”
Jackie was not a gold glover but he played four positions in his short career-first base, second base, third base and left field. He played where ever he was needed.
While serving in the US Army as a First Lieutenant, Jackie was court marshaled on trumped up charges of being drunk and abusive on a bus traveling through Texas.
He refused to sit in the back of the bus when the driver told him to so, “just like every other n___.” But of course he was found innocent (he never smoked or drank) but he was given a bad name by some ignorant people who only read headlines and never the full story.
Jackie was a four letter man at U.C.L.A. There have been many to come along that have been better ballplayers but none with the guts, flair and determination.
In 1948 Roy Campenella joined Brooklyn and naturally was Jackie's roommate.
After a particularly hard game in Philly the Dodger team bus stopped at a prearranged restaurant to eat, set up by Harold Pattor the traveling secretary. Jackie and Roy were informed they couldn't enter the restaurant like their teammates because of their God given color.
Food was brought out to the two Dodger “NEGROES” to eat on the bus. Roy started eating right away for he was hungry. He looked over at Jackie who didn't touch a thing. Roy asked Jackie if he felt OK, Jackie replied: “I'm OK but how could you eat their food when they won't let you in the front door like everyone else. Sure he was hungry just like everyone else but he denied himself for he knew there was an injustice against him. That's the reason he was picked to be first.
Talented and super strong mentally, he could follow orders no matter how difficult. A man amongst menó a warrior in his own country-good enough to fight for his country but not good enough to enter the front door of a restaurant because of the color of his skin.
No athlete, black or white, ever had to go through what he did and keep his mouth shut for two years. Today's athletes are not proís. They are actors. Hats on backwards, batting gloves, gold chains dangling from their necks. They should wear their hats like Jackie, out of pure respect.
When I was but a boy, old #4 Duke Snider was my favorite. Until I grew up and read about #42 and his triumphs over hardships. He was a true Dodger at the end of his short career (10 years). They traded him to the hated Giants but he retire rather then go to the enemy – unlike Leo Durosher and Ed Stanky who wore the hated Giant uniform.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was a special person picked to do a special job, a man on a mission. He was a trailblazer opening the door for his people not only in baseball but every other sport as well such as administration jobs, managers, general managers, announcers, coaches, presidents of leagues and commissioners.
To me he was like the first man to walk on the moon, and against all odds, he prevailed.