December 15, 2017

A Special Day in Baseball

From a Major League Baseball press release last week…

Major League Baseball is commemorating Jackie Robinson Day on Sunday, April 15, 2012 with a League-wide 65th anniversary recognition of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson breaking the game’s color barrier in 1947. To highlight this special occasion, all players and on-field personnel will once again wear Number 42. Additionally, MLB will release a new national public service announcement voiced by Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully, will host a baseball and softball clinic for youth from select Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs in the New York area, and Clubs will hold special ceremonies in MLB ballparks around the country, including one featuring the Robinson family at Yankee Stadium.

“When Jackie Robinson took the field in Brooklyn 65 years ago, he transcended the sport he loved and helped change our country in the most powerful way imaginable,” said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “It is a privilege for Major League Baseball to celebrate Jackie’s enduring legacy each year, and we are proud that every April 15th, our young fans around the world have an opportunity to learn everything that the Number 42 stands for – courage, grace and determination.”

Here’s a brief bio video about Jackie Robinson, his career, and impact:

 

In his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, Robinson describes his first game, on April 15, 1947:

Less than a week after I became Number 42 on the Brooklyn club, I played my first game with the team. I did a miserable job. There was an overflow crowd at Ebbets Field. If they expected any miracles out of Robinson, they were sadly disappointed. I was in another slump. I grounded out to the third baseman, flied out to left field, bounced into a double play, was safe on an error, and, later, was removed as a defensive safeguard.

Then, he talks about his early reception into baseball, when the Philadelphia Phillies came to Ebbets Field for a three-game series:

Early in the season, the Philadelphia Phillies came to Ebbets Field for a three-game series. I was still in my slump and events of the opening game certainly didn’t help. Staring to the plate in the first inning, I could scarcely believe my ears. Almost as if it had been synchronized by some master conductor, hate poured forth from the Phillies dugout.

“Hey nigger, why don’t you go back to the cotton field where you belong?”

“They’re waiting for you in the jungles, black boy!”

“Hey, snowflake, which one of those white boys’ wives are you dating tonight?”

“We don’t want you here, nigger.”

“Go back to the bushes!”

Those insults and taunts were only samples of the torrent of abuse which poured out from the Phillies dugout that April day.

I have to admit that this day of all the unpleasant days in my life, brought me nearer to cracking up than I ever had been.

Later that spring, the team traveled to Philadelphia, and Robinson was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as his teammates. In the games, the Phillies players kept up their taunting and even pointed their bats at the player and made machine gun noises. They may have thought it funny, but Jackie had received enough hate mail and threat mail that it was quite disconcerting.

However, a fellow player stepped forward and showed kindness and support.

I was helped over these crises by the courage and decency of a teammate who could easily have been my enemy rather than my friend. Pee Wee Reese, the successful Dodger shortstop, was one of the most highly respected players in the major leagues. When I first joined the club, I was aware that there might well be a real reluctance on Reese’s part to accept me as a teammate. He was from Ekron, Kentucky. Furthermore, it had been rumored that I might take over Reese’s position on the team. Mischief-makers seeking to create trouble between us had tried to agitate Reese into regarding me as a threat — a black one at that. But Reese, from the time I joined Brooklyn, had demonstrated a totally fair attitude.

…Reese’s tolerant attitude of witholding judgment to see if I would make it was translated into positive support soon after we became teammates. In Boston during a period when the heckling pressure seemed unbearable, some of the Boston players began to heckle Reese. They were riding him about being a Southerner and playing ball with a black man. Pee Wee didn’t answer them. Without a glance in their direction, he left his position and walked over to me. He put his hand on my shoulder and began talking to me. His words weren’t important. I don’t even remember what he said. It was the gesture of comradeship and support that counted. As he stood talking with me with a friendly arm around my shoulder, he was saying loud and clear, “Yell. Heckle. Do anything you want. We came here to play baseball.”

Here’s to you, Jackie Robinson. And here’s to Pee Wee Reese, who displayed the power of putting a hand on the shoulder of those on the margins.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this.

    What a great ballplayer and great man Jackie Robinson was.

  2. We’re watching the Giants/Pirates and I’m explaining to our 7 year old why all the players are wearing #42.

  3. Thank God for the trailblazers like Robinson who exhibit courage and grace that betters our race, that is the race of humans made in the image of God. Though we are generally dull to it, the effect is seen in our daily lives.

  4. P.S. – I lost my YOU ARE human box on my iPhone. Any way to get that back?

  5. I was tempted to point out the Jackie Robinson started his minor league career in Canada. (Intentionally I believe)
    As did Warren Moon in football.

    But then I thought, nah. People won’t care about that.

    • Michael, this is a good point, though. One thing I noted in Robinson’s autobiography is that he found much more welcome in Canada than he did in the U.S.

  6. Only 6 comments? Where are all the base ball fans?

    JR is one of my daughter’s heros. She place rec league baseball until she aged out. Her goal every game was to steal home. She did it at least once every year her last few years. And she regularly stole at least one base per game. Which drove the guys nuts. Especially the pitchers.

    And you have to be a JR fan to know why stealing home is relevant.

  7. Visit Jackie Robinson Ballpark when in Daytona Beach. Or Google it and be a virtual fan…pun intended.
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Robinson_Ballpark#section_2