Jackie Robinson: Breaking the Racial Barriers
According to the ales of the Hall of Fame, a player must be retired for five years before he can be considered for induction. Both Feller and Robinson were elected in the first year they were eligible (141 As Robinson received his plaque to take his place among the greats in the Hall of Fame, he said, “I’ve been riding on cloud number nine since the election, and don’t think I’ll ever come down.
Today everything is complete” (Robinson 142). After the induction ceremony, an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees was to take place at Doubleday Field, where the sport had its beginnings.Sudden thunderstorm allayed the game, and after an hours wait it was cancelled. At this same time, picketers in the streets of Harlem were carrying signs saying, “Jackie, we love you as a ballplayer, but not as a spokesman for the Negro race” (143). Just two days earlier at a banquet in the Waldron Astoria Hotel in New York City, many people had paid $25 a plate to show their admiration for Jackie as both a ballplayer and a representative of the Negro race as well. Some of the most distinguished figures in the nation were present this day and their praise was loud and long (Mann 187).Jackie had accepted without hesitation challenge to break a prevailing color barrier in the national sport of America with complete knowledge of how much depended on him.
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Few men had ever faced such competitive odds when becoming a player in organized baseball. Despite criticism and opposition, Jack Roosevelt Robinson had truly come a long way from his poor beginnings as the grandson of slaves in Cairo, Georgia, to breaking the racial barriers in major league baseball by becoming its first black athlete and achieving hall of fame status. Jackie Robinsons childhood was a struggle in family and financial matters.He was born on January 31, 1919, on a peonage that was one step away from the slavery into which his grandparents had been born (Mann 53). Only six months after Jackie was born his father deserted the family. This led to several hardships. The family lived on a sharecropper’s farm until the plantation owner used the father’s leave as an excuse to keep the whole crop the family had raised and to evict the widow and her children (54).
Jackass’s mother gathered her young ones about her with bitter feelings and found work as a domestic servant. About a year later, Robinsons uncle came to visit.He had served in the first World War. Afterward he had settled in California. When he returned to visit his family in Georgia, they scarcely recognized him, because he was dressed so finely (Mann 57). Once he learned of their troubles, he was immediately convinced that his sister and her children would do better in California. Within a few days, she boarded a train with her five little ones.
They arrived in Pasadena toward the end of May, 1 920, and moved into tight quarters with her sister and brother-in-law, brother, a nephew and her husband’s cousin (Robinson 79).Though they lacked hot water and a kitchen sink, Pasadena mimed glorious with it’s blue hills on the horizon and it’s wonderful air. Mrs.. Robinson accepted a job doing housework while the Welfare Department provided clothing for the children (80). Mrs..
Robinson soon found employment at which she could earn enough money to consider a more ample living space. They found a house on Pepper Street, however, the neighborhood did not welcome these Georgia Negroes (Robinson 82). Criticism from neighbors became a part of Jackass’s life as a toddler.By the time he was eight years old, he was doing what came naturally: standing his ground and answering back when the occasion demanded. As the Robinson boys became old enough to work, they sought ways to help solve the family’s financial problems. Frank and Mack found a number of strange jobs, such as shining shoes and selling hot dogs (Bonnet’s 60). Jackass’s first regular employment was carrying the Los Angels Times and the Los Angels Examiner on a regular Sunday morning delivery route.
Later, he worked on Saturdays helping his uncle tend lawns and shrubbery( 61 By that time, Jackie Robinson was ready for high school, and at Mir Tech it did not take him long to find expression in athletics for the rare coordination and the eighty controlled competitive instinct with which he had been born. Some found him too aggressive and cocky, yet his coaches were delighted with his abilities. With Jackie on the teams, Mir Tech became a high school terror in Southern California football, basketball, baseball and track. Every team they faced came into the game under orders to “stop Robinson” (Young 123).Strange as it may seem in retrospect, the major colleges failed to get steamed up over Jackie Robinsons prospects at this point. When he received no offer of a full scholarship, he decided to enter Pasadena Junior College (Young 123). Only his oldest brother, Frank, was upset by this, however.
Frank had become almost like a father to his youngest brother. He was convinced that nothing but rank injustice was behind this apparent snub. ‘But we’ll show C]me,” he vowed. “You just wait till next fall” (123). In the practice sessions that fall, however, Jackie was too anxious to completely fulfill Franks prediction.Trying to play on a slippery field, he caught his foot in a hole, and at that instant two tacklers hit him. Later, the trainer found that he had broken his ankle, so he was sitting on the bench when the season began (Robinson 9).
He played quarterback during the last six games that year, however, and the record for these contests was five wins for Pasadena and one scoreless tie. The college scouts who had passed him up in high school were now convinced (10). In basketball, baseball, and track, he made their miscalculation even more emphatic.He got headlines as he starred in each, and in a track meet at Pomona College he seta new world record for the broad jump by a junior college athlete (Robinson 10). After Pasadena Junior College had won the baseball championship that year, Jackie was named the most valuable junior college player in Southern California. He had batted . 417 and stolen twenty-five bases in twenty-four games (Smith 73).
Jimmy Dyke’s, manager of the Chicago White Sox at the time, was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “That boy could play major league baseball at a moment’s notice” (Bonnet’s 63).Through the football season of his second year at Pasadena J, Jackie Robinson became a legend in Southern California. People who spoke about UCLA or USC had to be careful or they would find themselves interrupted by someone who would insist that the only football player worth mentioning was “that colored boy out at Pasadena” (Young 127). San Francisco sportswriters were skeptical of all this Jackie Robinson buildup when the Pasadena team came into Ezra Stadium on November 1 1 to play San Francisco Junior College. Nevertheless, his seventy-five-yard touchdown run the first time he carried the ball convinced them (128).He left the field three quarters later to an astonishing ovation. After Pasadena, of course, he had a wide choice of senior colleges.
One of the main reasons he chose UCLA was his brother, Frank. The idea of Jackass’s playing at a college so far away from home that Frank could not attend the games was unthinkable for either f them. Sadly, Frank never saw Jackie play at UCLA. He died in a motorcycle accident in May of 1939 (Robinson 10). As a result, Jackie brilliant years as a Bruin star were tinged with inner grief.At Calcified became the first athlete to letter in four sports in one year. He participated in basketball, baseball, football, and track, and received honorable mention in football and basketball (Robinson 10).
When Jackie decided in the spring of 1941 to drop out of college before graduating, the Los Angels sportswriters and editors showered him with praise. George T. Davis, of the Herald Express, declared, It’s my honest opinion that Jackie Robinson will go down in history as the greatest all-around athlete in Pacific Coast history” (Bonnet’s 65).Drafted into the Army, Jackie applied for Officer Candidate School. At Fort Riley in Oklahoma, where he was stationed, Negroes had not thus far been accepted for SOC, and Jackie confronted for the first time as an adult the problem of racial discrimination. His reaction was automatic. He resented it.
He sent complaints to the Secretary of Defense, who immediately flew out to Riley to check them. Within a few days, Jackie Robinson and several other Negroes ere in SOC (Robinson 13). Robinson received his commission and served as a morale officer.After his discharge, Jackie was offered three hundred dollars a month to play baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro team. He would not leave for that amount but then was offered four hundred dollars instead. In April of 1945, he joined the Monarchs in training camp at Houston (Smith 77). A few days later, though, he received a call from Wendell Smith, sports editor for The Pittsburgh Courier, a Negro weekly, saying that the Boston Red Sox of the American League had agreed to give tryouts to a few Negroes.
Jackie hesitated, doubting the sincerity of the offer, but he let himself be talked into taking the trip (78).To Jackie Robinson, Sam Ejector, and Marvin Williams, the players who attended this so-called tryout, the whole experience became something of a hoax. Nothing came of it and so far as they could see, nothing was ever intended to come of it. Actually, it was not wholly without significance. Writers such as Deed Sullivan, Damon Run-on, and others who were not well known were discrediting baseball bosses (Smith 78). The recent war against Hitler had changed the racial attitudes of many Americans. Joe Louse’s appealing image had had an effect.
How could baseball continue as the American pastime while practicing a policy of Jim Crow that contradicted the principles of democracy? Discussions like this and “tryouts” like the one in Boston continued. While this went on, at least one man Was giving serious thought to a means of overcoming the difficulties and bringing about a change. He was Branch Rickety, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had gone to school with Negroes in Ohio in his boyhood, and he had coached Negro college students at Ohio Wesleyan. His own thoughts on the subject were clear.The apparently farcical Red Sox tryout had not escaped his notice. He made a mental note of one name: Jackie Robinson.
Eventually he added other names to his little private list, such as Don Newcomer and Roy Campanile, but he was not ready to disclose his plans (Dodgers #42). He went ahead quietly checking out prospects and assuring himself of the complete support of the Dodgers’ directors and stockholders. His number one aim, of course, was to strengthen the Dodger ball club. His number two aim was to help end the racial discrimination. Success in each would depend to a large extent on the player himself.His ability as a player had to be beyond question. He would have to make the grade in everybody’s book.
Important as this was, however, his poise and his coolness under tension, was even more vital (Soul Game). He would have to be a real man out on the field. He could not afford to give ground. Neither could he afford at any time to let his feelings boil over. When the brush-back came at the plate, when spikes were in the air at second or third, when insults came from the stands, and whenever tension arouse, he would have to be in control of himself.When Rickety indicated that he had settled on Robinson as his inner, questions arouse. There were those who knew of Jackass’s habit of arguing and standing his ground, and they favored a more submissive type of player.
Jackie, himself, was skeptical of the decision. “Mr.. Rickety,” he asked, “are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back? ” “Robinson,” Rickety said, “l am looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back. They’ll taunt and goad you. They’ll do anything to make you react. They’ll try to provoke a race riot in the ball park.
This is the way to prove to the public that a Negro should not be allowed in the major league. This is the way to frighten the fans and make them afraid to attend the games” (TIME 104). Could Jackie Robinson succeed under such pressure? Could any athlete do it? Jackie Robinson was asked to make good with teammates, coaches and a manager who had been raised with attitudes of prejudice (Dodgers #42). He was called on to win the respect of fans who could not be expected to be more emancipated than these. Then there was the vast public at home that followed baseball results in newspapers and on the air.The opposing teams, the enemies on the field of play, who should have been the sole concern of he aspiring athlete, were actually the least of Jackass’s worries. Each time Robinson planted his spikes in the soft dirt of the batter’s box, he felt the full weight of a collective dream: someday, in a different America, children of color would find the path to stardom uncluttered by racial obstacles, and his lonely struggle would hasten the day when black athletes could be athletes first, symbols second (Christian Science Monitor 1 There were 25,000 people on hand to see Jackie when he appeared for the first time in organized baseball.
It happened in Jersey City on the eighteenth of April, 1946 (Young 154). Every spectator in the stands was there to see the debut of the Montreal second baseman. When he went to bat the first time, he grounded out to the infield. In his second time at bat he drove in three Montreal runs as he lined a 335-foot home run over the left-field wall with two men on base (154). That was just the beginning. In three more times at bat that day, Jackie beat out two bunts and put a single into right field for a total of four hits in five attempts (155).Robinson went on to win the International League batting championship with an average of .
349 and to lead the league in fielding with a 985 average. He stole forty bases that season (159). His season with the Royals was epitomized in the Little World Series of 1 946, when his team met the Louisville Colonels for the minor league championship. The games played in Louisville were tense, and the fact that the local club owners had put a quota on the number of Negro fans who could attend had intensified rather than reduced the tension (Robinson 42).Jackie emerged as the hero in the final and decisive game. Joy overflowed in Montreal, and Robinson had to be protected from his admirers. According to sportswriter Sam Martin, “It was rabble the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind” (43).
Jackie came up to the Dodgers of the National League the following year as a first baseman. He was severely heckled by all of the opposing teams, but mostly by the Philadelphia Phillips (Dodgers #42).Torrents of abuse poured from their dugout with childish remarks and gestures that coincided with the threats that had been made. Some Of the players sat in the dugout and pointed bats at him while making machine-kinglike noises. It was an incredibly childish display of bad will. Through it all, though, Robinson kept his temper and helped lead the Dodgers to the 1947 pennant (TIME 104). They won the pennant in five of the next ten years in which Jackie Robinson played on the team.
In the majors as in the minors he was Rookie of the Year in his first season.Two years later, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. During his ten years in the majors, Jackie stole 197 bases, more than any other player for a similar period. He was selected to play in six All-Star games. He led National League second baseman in fielding four times. He set a National League record for bubble plays by a second baseman in 1951 with 137. He set a National League fielding record for a second baseman the same year with an average of .
992. His overall batting average in organized baseball was . 11 (Opponents 70). In January 1 957, Jackie decided it was time for him to retire from athletics. Robinson spent his final years as a successful businessman and a conspicuous Republican turned Democrat He was the vice president and personnel director of the Chock Full O’ Nuts Company, a snack bar chain. He was also a tireless, outspoken champion of civil rights and rehabilitation orgasm for drug addicts. In later years, Robinson was slowed by a heart condition, arthritis, and a case of diabetes that left him blind in one eye.
He was only 53 when he died (TIME 140). Its first black athlete and achieving hall of fame status. When the 1972 World Series opened only a few weeks before Jackass’s death, he was presented with a plaque commemorating the 25th anniversary of his arrival in the big leagues. “l am extremely proud and pleased,” he said, “but will be more pleased the day can look over at third base and see a black man as manager” (TIME 104). By the end Of the century Robinsons dream had in a large part become reality.