42, African Americans, baseball, blacks, Brooklyn Dodgers, civil rights, Civil Rights Movement, Dodger Stadium, Dodgers, integration, Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball, MLB, NAACP, UCLA Bruins, World Series
Jackie Robinson at his Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, NY in 1962, flanked by Branch Rickey (left) and wife Rachel Robinson (right). Photo courtesy of thesportspost.com
“WERE THERE BETTER PLAYERS? SURE. BUT WERE THERE BETTER MEN? NO.” – Bob Costas
This coming Sunday will be the 71st anniversary of the greatest moment in sports history;
The day in 1947 – April 15th – when Jackie Robinson took his position at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, breaking a sixty-year color barrier in Major League Baseball and made that sport, according to Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries,
“…in truth, what it always claimed to be: the National Pastime.”
Every year at this time, along with everyone on the 30 MLB teams wearing Jackie’s number 42 on Sunday, much will be made about how the greatest Dodger and UCLA Bruin of all time endured much racist hate, going against his nature in a huge way by turning the other cheek to the blatant bigotry in order to integrate baseball.
News reports, stories, and articles will abound, as will the showings of the movie 42, starring current Black Panther Chadwick Boseman as Jackie (which I thoroughly recommend) and 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story, starring the man himself.
As well as Burns’ own two-part documentary on Robinson, which was released on PBS a few years ago.
In essence, much will be covered about Jackie’s life and baseball exploits that have always been covered and well-known, which is necessary.
Jackie Robinson with Martin Luther King, who famously told Jackie that he made it easier for King to do his marches, boycotts, etc. Photo courtesy of insidesocal.com
Not as much attention will be given to another part of Robinson’s life that I and many others feel was just as important as what he did in a Dodgers uniform; what he did during the fifteen years between his retirement from baseball in 1957 and his much-too-soon death in 1972.
Although he did some of the things that former ball players often do, like be a color commentator for major league games on TV, namely ABC’s Game of the Week in 1965, what was far more important was the things he did that had nothing to do with sports.
In a nutshell, Jackie was, for lack of a better term, an agitator and an advocate for civil rights, not only becoming a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement as he went on marches and appeared in places like Birmingham, working with Martin Luther King and other big names in that struggle,
He was also a major organizer in the African-American community, recognizing the needs for blacks to be producers and providers of jobs rather than strictly being employees at the mercy of people in power who were almost always not black.
Which was why his first post-baseball job was the Vice President of Chock Full O’ Nuts in New York City, a coffee and nut company that expanded to the lunch counter business, Robinson using his position and influence to provide jobs for the Black community in Harlem in particular.
Jackie Robinson’s family – wife Rachel, daughter Sharon and son David – throwing out the first ball before Game 1 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium, courtesy of YouTube.
In 1964 he started the Freedom National Bank, which unlike the mainstream white-owned banks at that time provided home and business loans to the black community so they could have a better chance to get a leg up on the “American Dream”, sending the message that ownership was a key to prosperity and respect.
Not that he was perfect in his post-baseball exploits, in my opinion; when, after meeting with John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential Campaign and concluding that Kennedy wasn’t as tuned into the civil rights issue as he should be,
And when Republican candidate Richard Nixon sought Jackie out and embraced him, basically telling him what he wanted to hear, Jackie campaigned for Nixon and other Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller.
Which I must emphasize he regretted later on, when he realized that Nixon and the other Republicans were not nearly as focused on civil rights as the Democrats and subsequently campaigned for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon during the 1968 campaign.
Jackie going on a civil rights march. Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com
He was a big part of the NAACP, chairing their Freedom Fund Drive and serving on that organization’s board until 1967.
As for the affairs of his former sport, he advocated free agency for players and ending the major league’s reserve clause, testifying for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Curt Flood in his famous case against MLB in 1970.
And he especially and passionately advocated increasing the number of African-American managers, general managers, and other front office people in baseball, turning down an offer to appear at an Old-Timers game at Yankee Stadium in 1969 and mentioning, in his speech at the 1972 World Series (nine days before his death), how he was…
“…pleased and proud that I could be here this afternoon, but must admit that I’ll be more pleased and more proud, when I look down that third base line and see a black face managing in baseball.”
I hope these mentions illustrate just what an important man Jackie Robinson – the best athlete that ever came out of Southern California; the entire state of California really – was.
And how he was SO much more than just a great baseball player who broke the color line.
Of course I’m going to be wearing my #42 Dodger jersey while playing in my pick-up softball game this weekend, as I’ve always done in personally commemorating this man.
SAYING GOODBYE TO BASEBALL: Jackie Robinson packing up his Dodger uniform and his gear after announcing his retirement in 1957. Photo courtesy of stuffnobodycaresabout.com