Story of the Week
There is a man in baseball history who every American should learn about. What he did between the lines is one story. But he should be remembered primarily for crossing the line, the line of prejudice.
My story this week features my idol, Jackie Robinson. As you hopefully know, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball in 1947, the first black in the major leagues, as a Brooklyn Dodger, at a not-so-young rookie age of 28, this after a most illustrious four-sport college career at UCLA. (Baseball, football, basketball and track.)
I was eight years old in 1947, a Caucasian/Jewish kid living in St. Louis, Missouri, and I well remember how he captivated me when he and the Dodgers came to town to play the Cardinals. I became an avid Jackie Robinson fan, so my baseball allegiance moved to the Dodgers even then. I was enamored with Jackie Robinson and his aggressive and exciting style of play.
As I became older, he became even more of an idol to me, not just for his baseball talents, but for being able to keep his promise to the man who signed him to his contract, Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers. Rickey knew that Jackie Robinson would have to endure immense racial prejudice, and he knew, too, that this pioneering "experiment" would fail miserably if he couldn't handle it.
Branch Rickey was so right about the racial prejudice Jackie Robinson would endure. There were constant taunts, insults, threatened boycotts, death threats, isolation, and immense pressure to become the best all-around player in the National League. But he did handle it, and #42 became a Hall-of-Fame player.
Jackie Robinson's career, cut short by age, lasted through the 1956 season. He retired at the age of 37. His lifetime batting average of .311 doesn't begin to tell the whole story. He was the ultimate competitor, at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, and, by virtue of his pioneering, changed the sport forever.
Jackie's honors included All-Star status six times, Rookie of the Year in 1947, MVP in 1949, and his selection to the Hall of Fame in 1962. He was an integral part of six National League pennants and one World Series victory in 1955 for Brooklyn.
On December 31, 2000, Keith Olbermann, then with Fox Sports, named Jackie Robinson the No. 1 athlete of the 20th. century. To state the least, I was quite pleased with Keith Olbermann's choice. Jackie Robinson had a profound impact on the game, and society, and me, and I am obviously quite proud to make Jackie Robinson the subject of my first article.
Many remember Jackie Robinson as a great athlete, but his accomplishments went far beyond the playing field. After retiring from baseball, Jackie Robinson pioneered as the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. Later he emerged as an activist in the civil rights movement, as well as an advocate of quality education.
Along the lines of education, the Jackie Robinson Foundation keeps his spirit alive by granting college scholarships to talented students of color who are among America's brightest, but lack the financial resources necessary to attend college. Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, founded the Foundation in 1973. For more information about the Foundation, and how to contribute to it, please access its website at: www.jackierobinson.org.
It should be noted that Rachel Robinson was Jackie's strength and support while he was enduring the injustice perpetrated upon him during his pioneering years in baseball. She is an extraordinary woman and deserves great respect for her role in her husband's success.
I make it a point to ask young blacks what they know about Jackie Robinson. It amazes me that they know so little, on average, about this great man. Jackie Robinson is black heritage, and every young black should be taught it. Every American, whatever race or religion, should know it.
If you want to learn more about my hero, I suggest the biography "Jackie Robinson" written by Arnold Rampersad, and "Jackie Robinson, An Intimate Portrait" written by Rachel Robinson. Both are outstanding.
Question of the Week
When and where was the first NFL championship game to be played indoors?
See next week's Sports Junkie for the answer.