Edited by Gerald Boerner
Baseball has always been a game of heroes. There are pitching greats like Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, for example. (I am a Dodger and Angels fan, as you may notice!) There are also hitting greats, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, for example. Some stand out for a single, spectacular performance, like Don Larson’s perfect game in the World Series. Then there are the lifetime achievement feats like the career home run record of Babe Ruth.
Most of these records are held by White Men. Why? Because the history of baseball was the domain of white men UNTIL 1947 when Jackie Robinson, a standout Black player broke through the “Color Line” that had kept the black players segregated into their own leagues. But that changed when Branch Richie of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson to a Major League Contract. Segregation in major league baseball was breached. This occurred in 1947, one year before President Truman ended segregation in the military services.
Jackie Robinson opened the doors not only for himself, but also for others of his race who now was given the opportunity to compete in the big leagues. Hank Aaron was able to break Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Bonds and others were able to set numerous records. We see well integrated teams throughout the major leagues thanks to the bold move of Branch Richie and self control and composure tf Jackie Robinson. Thank you both for enriching our national past time.
So let’s get on with today’s exploration of the integration of major league baseball… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4095 Words ]
Quotations Related to JACKIE ROBINSON:
“Above anything else, I hate to lose.”
— Jackie Robinson
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
— Jackie Robinson
“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”
— Jackie Robinson
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”
— Jackie Robinson
“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
— Jackie Robinson
“The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it.”
— Jackie Robinson
“It kills me to lose. If I’m a troublemaker, and I don’t think that my temper makes me one, then it’s because I can’t stand losing. That’s the way I am about winning, all I ever wanted to do was finish first.”
— Jackie Robinson
“I guess you’d call me an independent, since I’ve never identified myself with one party or another in politics. I always decide my vote by taking as careful a look as I can at the actual candidates and issues themselves, no matter what the party label.”
— Jackie Robinson
Major League Baseball: Jackie Robinson Breaks Color Barrier…
Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson (1919 – 1972) was the first black Major League Baseball (MLB) player of the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. As the first black man to play in the major leagues since the 1880s, he was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation in professional baseball, which had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades. The example of his character and unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation, which then marked many other aspects of American life, and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to his cultural impact, Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Over ten seasons, he played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 – the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams.
Robinson was also known for his pursuits outside the baseball diamond. He was the first black television analyst in Major League Baseball, and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. In recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
John Muir High School
In 1935, Robinson graduated from Washington Junior High School and enrolled at John Muir High School (Muir Tech). Recognizing his athletic talents, Robinson’s older brothers Mack (himself an accomplished athlete and silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics) and Frank inspired Jackie to pursue his interest in sports. At Muir Tech, Robinson played several sports at the varsity level and lettered in four of them: football, basketball, track, and baseball. He played shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team, and guard on the basketball team. With the track and field squad, he won awards in the broad jump. He was also a member of the tennis team.
In 1936, Robinson won the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament and earned a place on the Pomona annual baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon. In late January 1937, the Pasadena Star-News newspaper reported that Robinson "for two years has been the outstanding athlete at Muir, starring in football, basketball, track, baseball and tennis."
Pasadena Junior College
After Muir, Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College (PJC), where he continued his athletic career by participating in basketball, football, baseball, and track. On the football team, he played quarterback and safety. He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, and he broke school broad jump records held by his brother Mack. As at Muir High School, most of Jackie’s teammates were white. While playing football at PJC, Robinson suffered a fractured ankle, complications from which would eventually delay his deployment status while in the military. Also while at PJC, he was elected to the Lancers, a student-run police organization responsible for patrolling various school activities. In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Team for baseball and selected as the region’s Most Valuable Player. That year, Robinson was one of ten students named to the school’s Order of the Mast and Dagger (Omicron Mu Delta), awarded to students performing "outstanding service to the school and whose scholastic and citizenship record is worthy of recognition."
UCLA and Afterward
After graduating from PJC in spring 1939, Robinson transferred to UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team; the others were Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the team’s four backfield players. At a time when only a handful of black players existed in mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football’s most integrated team. In track and field, Robinson won the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the Long Jump, jumping 24’10.5". Belying his future career, baseball was Robinson’s "worst sport" at UCLA; he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home.
While a senior at UCLA, Robinson met his future wife, Rachel Isum, a UCLA freshman who was familiar with Robinson’s athletic career at PJC. In the spring semester of 1941, despite his mother’s and Isum’s reservations, Robinson left college just shy of graduation. He took a job as an assistant athletic director with the government’s National Youth Administration (NYA) in Atascadero, California.
After the government ceased NYA operations, Robinson traveled to Honolulu in fall 1941 to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. After a short season, Robinson returned to California in December 1941 to pursue a career as running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League. By that time, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place, drawing the United States into World War II and ending Robinson’s nascent football career.
In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Having the requisite qualifications, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) then located at Fort Riley. Although the Army’s initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race-neutral, practically speaking few black applicants were admitted into OCS until after subsequent directives by Army leadership. As a result, the applications of Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (then stationed at Fort Riley) and the help of Truman Gibson (then an assistant civilian aide to the Secretary of War), the men were accepted into OCS. This common military experience spawned a personal friendship between Robinson and Louis. Upon finishing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. Shortly afterward, Robinson and Isum were formally engaged.
After receiving his commission, Robinson was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. While at Fort Hood, 2LT Robinson often used his weekend leave to visit the Rev. Karl Downs, President of Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in nearby Austin, Texas; Downs had been Robinson’s pastor at Scott United Methodist Church while Robinson attended PJC.
An event on July 6, 1944 derailed Robinson’s military career. While awaiting results of hospital tests on the ankle he had injured in junior college, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer’s wife; although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but after reaching the end of the line, summoned the military police, who took Robinson into custody. When Robinson later confronted the investigating duty officer about racist questioning by the officer and his assistant, the officer recommended Robinson be court-martialed. After Robinson’s commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion – where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with multiple offenses, including, among other charges, public drunkenness – even though Robinson did not drink.
In early 1945, while Robinson was at Sam Huston College, the Kansas City Monarchs sent him a written offer to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues. Robinson accepted a contract for $400 ($4,882 in 2011 dollars) per month, a boon for him at the time. Although he played well for the Monarchs, Robinson was frustrated with the experience. He had grown used to a structured playing environment in college, and the Negro leagues’ disorganization and embrace of gambling interests appalled him. The hectic travel schedule also placed a burden on his relationship with Isum, with whom he could now only communicate by letter. In all, Robinson played 47 games at shortstop for the Monarchs, hitting .387 with five home runs, and registering 13 stolen bases. He also appeared in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game, going hitless in five at-bats.
During the season, Robinson pursued potential major league interest. The Boston Red Sox held a tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson and other black players on April 16. The tryout, however, was a farce chiefly designed to assuage the desegregationist sensibilities of powerful Boston City Councilman Isadore Muchnick. Even with the stands limited to management, Robinson was subjected to racial epithets. Robinson left the tryout humiliated, and more than fourteen years later, in July 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate its roster.
Other teams, however, had more serious interest in signing a black ballplayer. In the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to scout the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers’ roster. Rickey selected Robinson from a list of promising black players, and interviewed Robinson for possible assignment to Brooklyn’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait and reacting angrily – a concern given Robinson’s prior arguments with law enforcement officials at PJC and in the military. Robinson was aghast: "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player "with guts enough not to fight back." After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to "turn the other cheek" to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $7,322 today.
Although he required Robinson to keep the arrangement a secret for the time being, Rickey committed to formally signing Robinson before November 1, 1945. On October 23, it was publicly announced that Robinson would be assigned to the Royals for the 1946 season. On the same day, with representatives of the Royals and Dodgers present, Robinson formally signed his contract with the Royals. In what was later referred to as "The Noble Experiment", Robinson was the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s. Robinson was not necessarily the best player in the Negro leagues, and black talents Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were upset when Robinson was selected first.
In 1946, Robinson arrived at Daytona Beach, Florida, for spring training with the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League (the designation of "AAA" for the highest level of minor league baseball was first used in the 1946 season). Robinson’s presence was controversial in racially charged Florida. As he was not allowed to stay with his teammates at the team hotel, he lodged instead at the home of a local black politician. Since the Dodgers organization did not own a spring training facility (the Dodger-controlled spring training compound in Vero Beach known as "Dodgertown" did not open until spring 1948), scheduling was subject to the whim of area localities, several of which turned down any event involving Robinson or Johnny Wright, another black player whom Rickey had signed to the Dodgers’ organization in January. In Sanford, Florida, the police chief threatened to cancel games if Robinson and Wright did not cease training activities there; as a result, Robinson was sent back to Daytona Beach. In Jacksonville, the stadium was padlocked shut without warning on game day, by order of the city’s Parks and Public Property director. In DeLand, a scheduled day game was called off, ostensibly because of faulty electrical lighting.
After much lobbying of local officials by Rickey himself, the Royals were allowed to host a game involving Robinson in Daytona Beach. Robinson made his Royals debut at Daytona Beach’s City Island Ballpark on March 17, 1946, in an exhibition game against the team’s parent club, the Dodgers. Robinson thus simultaneously became the first black player to openly play for a minor league team and against a major league team since the de facto baseball color line had been implemented in the 1880s. Later in spring training, after some less-than-stellar performances, Robinson was shifted from shortstop to second base, allowing him to make shorter throws to first base. Robinson’s performance soon rebounded.
On April 18, 1946, Roosevelt Stadium hosted the Jersey City Giants’ season opener against the Montreal Royals, marking the professional debut of the Royals’ Jackie Robinson. In his five trips to the plate, Robinson had four hits, including a three-run home run. He also scored four runs, drove in three, and stole two bases in the Royals’ 14–1 victory. Robinson proceeded to lead the International League that season with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage, and he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Although he often faced hostility while on road trips (the Royals were forced to cancel a Southern exhibition tour, for example), the Montreal fan base enthusiastically supported Robinson. Whether fans supported or opposed it, Robinson’s presence on the field was a boon to attendance; more than one million people went to games involving Robinson in 1946, an amazing figure by International League standards. In the fall of 1946, following the baseball season, Robinson returned home to California and briefly played professional basketball for the short-lived Los Angeles Red Devils.
Breaking the Color Barrier (1947)
The following year, six days before the start of the 1947 season, the Dodgers called Robinson up to the major leagues. With Eddie Stanky entrenched at second base for the Dodgers, Robinson played his initial major league season as a first baseman. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, including more than 14,000 black patrons. Although he failed to get a base hit, the Dodgers won 5–3. Robinson became the first player since 1880 to openly break the major league baseball color line. Black fans began flocking to see the Dodgers when they came to town, abandoning their Negro league teams.
Robinson’s promotion met a generally positive, although mixed, reception among newspapers and white major league players. However, racial tension existed in the Dodger clubhouse. Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The brewing mutiny ended when Dodgers management took a stand for Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher informed the team, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded."
Robinson was also derided by opposing teams. Some, notably the St. Louis Cardinals, threatened to strike if Robinson played. After the threat, National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler let it be known that any striking players would be suspended. Robinson nonetheless became the target of rough physical play by opponents (particularly the Cardinals). At one time, he received a seven-inch gash in his leg. On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players called Robinson a "nigger" from their dugout and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields". Rickey later recalled that Phillies manager Ben Chapman "did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men."
Robinson received significant encouragement from several major league players. Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese once came to Robinson’s defense with the famous line, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them." In 1948, Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinnati. A statue by sculptor William Behrends, unveiled at KeySpan Park on November 1, 2005, commemorates this event by representing Reese with his arm around Robinson. Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who had to deal with racial epithets during his career, also encouraged Robinson. After colliding with Robinson at first base on one occasion, Greenberg whispered a few words into Robinson’s ear, which Robinson later characterized as "words of encouragement." Greenberg had advised him that the best way to combat the slurs from the opposing players was to beat them on the field.
Robinson finished the season with 12 home runs, a league-leading 29 steals, a .297 batting average, a .427 slugging percentage, and 125 runs scored. His cumulative performance earned him the inaugural Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award (separate National and American League Rookie of the Year honors were not awarded until 1949).
World Championship and Retirement (1954–1956)
In 1954, Robinson had 62 runs, a .311 batting average, and 7 steals. His best day at the plate was on June 17, when he hit two home runs and two doubles. The following autumn, Robinson won his only championship when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Although the team enjoyed ultimate success, 1955 was the worst year of Robinson’s individual career. He hit .256 and stole only 12 bases. The Dodgers tried Robinson in the outfield and as a third baseman, both because of his diminishing abilities and because Gilliam was established at second base. Robinson, then 37 years old, missed 49 games and did not play in Game 7 of the World Series. Robinson missed the game because manager Walter Alston decided to play Gilliam at second and Don Hoak at third base. That season, the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe became the first black major league pitcher to win twenty games in a year.
In 1956, Robinson had 61 runs, a .275 batting average, and 12 steals. By then, he had begun to exhibit the effects of diabetes, and to lose interest in the prospect of playing or managing professional baseball. After the season, Robinson was traded by the Dodgers to the arch-rival New York Giants for Dick Littlefield and $35,000 cash (equal to $282,838 today). The trade, however, was never completed; unbeknownst to the Dodgers, Robinson had already agreed with the president of Chock full o’Nuts to quit baseball and become an executive with the company. Since Robinson had sold exclusive rights to any retirement story to Look magazine two years previously, his retirement decision was revealed through the magazine, instead of through the Dodgers organization.
Please take time to further explore more about JACKIE ROBINSON,
BASEBALL COLOR LINE, BROOKLYN DODGERS, NEGRO LEAGUES,
HENRY "HANK" AARON, JOE DIMAGGIO, and BASEBALL by accessing
the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the
body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles;
footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte accepts the Treaty of Fontainebleau, abdicating the French throne and agreeing to exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.
American troops liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
Jackie Robinson becomes the first black baseball player in the major leagues when he plays an exhibition game as a Brooklyn Dodger.
President Harry Truman relieves Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command of United Nations and U.S. troops in the Far East, because of a dispute between MacArthur and Truman over expanding the Korean War into mainland China. After returning home, MacArthur famously reflects in a farewell speech to a joint session of Congress that "old soldier never die, they just fade away."
NASA launches the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aboard. Two days later, the explosion of an oxygen tank cripples the spacecraft, changing the mission objective from landing on the moon to simply bringing the three men home. Because of the joint efforts of mission control and the astronauts onboard, Apollo 13 will return to Earth safely on April 17.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Jackie Robinson…
Wikipedia: Baseball Color Line…
Wikipedia: Brooklyn Dodgers…
Wikipedia: Negro Leagues…
Brainy Quote: JACKIE ROBINSON Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Henry Aaron: Breaks Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Joe DiMaggio, Duty before the Yankees during World War II…