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“Were there better players? Sure. But were there better men? No.” – Bob Costas. Image courtesy of phllytrib.com

 

OUR ANNUAL HOMAGE TO THE GREATEST DODGER AND UCLA BRUIN OF ALL TIME, AND THE GREATEST ATHLETE THAT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EVER PRODUCED

 

It’s interesting how fast seventy years goes by.

But at the risk of uttering a cliché, it’s hard to believe that this Saturday will mark seventy years to the day that a 28-year old African-American stepped onto the diamond at Ebbets Field in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, wearing the uniform of the local team, the Dodgers…

And officially broke a sixty-year barrier that barred all Blacks, regardless of ability,  from playing organized professional baseball outside of the Negro Leagues as he played first base and though he went 0-for-3, made not only sports history but history in general.

Much has been said and celebrated about Jackie Robinson, particularly within the last twenty years as his number 42 was retired by all of Major League Baseball – the first time that has happened in the history of sports – in a ceremony at Shea Stadium, where the Dodgers were playing the New York Mets, in 1997.

 

Jackie sliding against the (then) Boston Braves. Photo courtesy of ideastations.org

 

Ken Burns’ iconic Baseball documentary covered Robinson’s breaking the color line and subsequent career at length, and the filmmaker went even further when he made Jackie the subject of his own documentary last year, covering his entire life from his early days in Pasadena to his time as UCLA’s first (and still only) four-sport letterman to his post-baseball involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Some footage of Jackie Robinson in action, courtesy of YouTube.

 

The biggest thing that needs to always be remembered about this true legend, in the views of me and I’m sure many others, is this…

Jackie went through perhaps the purest form of racist hell in breaking the color line; what made it such was the fact that it completely went against his nature as he had a hotheaded personality who would angrily confront people and brawl at the slightest provocation.

 

Chadwick Boseman doing a spectacular job portraying Jackie Robinson in the 2013 movie “42”. Photo courtesy of nj.com

 

People know that at the request of Dodger president Branch Rickey, Jackie agreed to “Turn the other cheek”, not fight back at any racist gestures, for the first three years of his career, the season he played with the minor league Montreal Royals and his first two years with the Dodgers.

While I won’t go into any of those grim specifics that Jackie endured, the acclaimed movie 42, starring Chadwick Boseman, illustrated well what he had to go through; if you haven’t seen the film, I strongly suggest that you do.

 

 

A video honoring Jackie’s legacy, courtesy of YouTube

 

Because of his nature and what I’m sure was the post traumatic stress from taking all the crap he had to take, one can say that Jackie gave his life to make a horrible wrong right as he died from various ailments, mostly from diabetes and a bad heart, at the much too young age of 53.

 

Jackie as a UCLA baseball player in 1940. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com

 

As many African-American players such as Reggie Jackson have since stated, Jackie was “…the only one of us who could have (integrated baseball).”

Besides every player in MLB wearing the number 42 on Saturday – which is officially designated Jackie Robinson Day in an unofficial holiday fashion – as they have done for the past several seasons, Dodger Stadium will unveil a statue of Jackie, becoming the latest of many venues across America, including UCLA’s baseball facility in Westwood, to honor his likeness.

Personally speaking, being that I’m an African-American from the same SoCal region where Jackie grew up and am an alum of the same UCLA that he is an alum of, I treat every April 15th as a holiday, wearing my #42 Dodger jersey as I go about my business; in this case I will be playing in my weekly pick-up softball game.

I’m very much looking forward to playing the game honoring Jackie in my number 42.

And I hope you will be wearing that number as well; it’s the least we can do to honor the greatest man in sports.

 

 

A display of Jackie’s #42 outside of Dodger Stadium. Photo courtesy of shsleaf.org

 

 

 

 

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