Jackie Robinson is famous for being the first black player signed to the majors in 1947. Prior to that black players had been restricted to Negro League teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Greys and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Branch Rickey changed all that when he signed Jackie Robinson sending him to Brooklyn's farm club in Montreal in 1946. The Dodgers brought Jackie up in 1947.
William Marshall wrote in Baseball's Pivotal Era, "Credit for breaking baseball's invisible color barrier largely belongs to Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. In facing the taunts from opposing benches, the unkind remarks from the stands, the death threats from unknown sources, the spiking and brush backs and the indignities of being treated as a second-class citizen wherever he traveled, Jackie Robinson gave up his own dignity to gain self-respect for his race -integration will hang forever on his head. Few players with Jackie Robinson's intensity could have withstood the pressure that left him on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Only Rachel Robinson knew the anguish he suffered..."
Sports writer Harvey Frommer reported on the signing of Robinson at Brooklyn Dodger headquarters on August 28 in 1945. "Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey met and set in motion what was known as "the noble experiment." Rickey said, "I want to beg two things of you, Jackie. Give it all you have as a ballplayer. As a man, give continuing loyalty to your race and to the critical cause you are going to symbolize. And above all, do not fight. No matter how vile the abuse, you must ignore it. You are carrying the reputation of a race on your shoulders. Bear it well, and the day will come when every team in baseball will open its doors to Negroes."
The contract that Robinson signed was an agreement for a $3,500 bonus and a salary of $600 a month for the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals.
Curt Gowdy wrote in Seasons to Remember, "Robinson was far from a household word when Branch Rickey signed him just after the war ended. Black Players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were much better known. But Robinson was precisely the type of man Rickey was looking for. He was young, smart, aggressive and disciplined enough to maintain his poise in the face of almost unbearable abuse. That was probably more important to Rickey than how well Robinson could play the game."
In 1947 a National League players' strike instigated by some of the St. Louis Cardinals against the presence of Jackie Robinson in the league was averted. In writing for the New York Herald Tribune in 1947, Stanley Woodward wrote that Ford Frick, president of the National League and Sam Breadon, president of the St. Louis club had been conferring with St. Louis players in the Hotel New Yorker.
He quoted Frick's address to the players.
"If you do this you will be suspended from the league. You will find that the friends you think you have in the press box will not support you, that you will be outcasts. I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right play as another.
The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness."
According to Dave Anderson in the New York Times Book of Sports Legends, when they were in Boston once, some Braves players were taunting Robinson during infield practice. Robinson was quoted as saying, "Pee Wee walked over and put his arm on my shoulder, as if to say, 'This is my teammate, whether you like it or not.'"
After Robinson's death in 1972 Pee Wee Reese recalled an incident when the team had gone to St. Louis for a series. "...that might've been the last place in the league where the black players were segregated, where they stayed in one hotel in the black section and the other guys stayed in the regular hotel.
Jack got off the train one day there and said, 'I'm going to the hotel with you.' Roy Campanella and some of the other black guys told him not to do it, they said there were doing OK and so don't rock the boat. But Jackie joined us on the team bus, went right into the hotel and registered, and Campy and the others followed. That was Jack-he got the job done."
In an interview with Gerald Holland for Sports Illustrated in 1955, Branch Rickey said one of the issues he was concerned about when he signed Jackie was the reaction of Robinson's own race. "... I went again to the Negro leaders. I explained that in order to give this boy his chance, there must be no demonstrations in his behalf, no excursion from one city to another, no presentations or testimonials. He was to be left alone to do this thing without any more hazards than were already present. For two years the men I talked to respected the reasoning behind my requests. My admiration for these men is limitless. In the best possible way they saw to it that Jackie Robinson had his chance to make it on his own."
According to Marshall, the Negro League owners were in a quandary over Robinson's signing because they knew that his success would sound the death knell of their game. He quoted Effa Manley who said that "Branch Rickey raped us...We were in no position to protest and he new it."
Tom Baird, co-owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, initially wanted to appeal Robinson's loss to Commissioner Chandler but quickly changed his position when both he and J.L. Wilkinson announced that they would not stand in Robinson's way.
Robinson was quoted in the New York Times book of Sports Legends as saying, "But if Mr. Rickey hadn't signed me, I wouldn't have played another year in the black league..It was too difficult. The travel was brutal. Financially, there was no reward. It took everything you made to live off."
Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. After his father deserted them, Robinson's mother took him and his three siblings to Pasadena, California. He was an all-round athlete, competing in basketball and track in addition to baseball and football. After attending UCLA, he entered the army and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Once he was discharged he joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League as a shortstop.
Marshall wrote, "For whites, Jackie Robinson was a figure they could not ignore. The former football All-American at UCLA was educated, clean-living, and played life by the rules. Robinson earned the grudging respect of many of his peers on the field and the out-and-out admiration of millions of white fans who saw him play or read of his exploits. Robinson was as good as or better than those he played against, and he performed in an institution that was one of the most visibly segregated institutions in America."
According to Anderson Robinson had been voted Rookie of the Year in 1947. He became the Dodger's leader. In his ten seasons they won six National League pennants in 1947,49,52,53,55 and 56. In 1949 when he batted .342 to win the league title and drove in 124 runs he was voted the league's Most Valuable Player award.
He was an exceptional base runner with a total of 197 stolen bases and stole home 11 times, the most of any player in the post-World War II era.
Pachter wrote, "In 1951 anyone left in America who doubted the powerful role that blacks would play in major-league baseball was silenced by the most dramatic pennant race in memory, between the Giants, propelled by Willie Mays and the Dogers, kept alive by Jacke Robinson. The final Dodgers game of the regular season, a showcase for Robbie's talents, went fourteen innings against the Phillies and was saved for Brooklyn when, in the twelfth, Robinson made a stunning catch of a near-tie-breaking line drive and then, in the fourteen, hit the winning home run...."
After the 1956 season, Robinson was traded to the rival Giants, but he announced his retirement in Look magazine. According to Anderson, "Any chance of him changing his mind ended when Emil 'Buzzy' Bavasi, then a Dodger vice president, implied that after Robinson had been paid for the byline article he would accept the Giant's offer. 'After Bussy said that,' Robinson later acknowledged, 'there was no way I'd ever play again.' Afterwards Robinson became a successful New York businessman and got involved in politics.
He was the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 23, 1962.
Red Smith wrote on Jackie's death, "At fifty three Jackie was sick of body, white of hair. He had survived one heart attack, he had diabetes and high blood pressure and he was going blind as a result of retinal bleeding in spite of efforts to cauterize the ruptured blood vessels with laser beams. With him were his wife, Rachel, their son, David and daughter, Sharon. Everybody was remembering Jack Jr., an addict who beat the heroin habit and died at twenty-four in an auto accident.
'I've lost the sight in one eye,' Jackie had told Kahn a day or so earlier, "but they think they can save the other. I've got nothing to complain about.' Unconquerable is the word.," Smith used to summarize Jackie Robinson.
Champions of American Sport
Edited by Marc Pachter with Amy Henderson, Jeannette Hussey, and Margaret C. S. Christman, 1981
The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Harry N. Abrams., Inc. New York
Howard Siner, Editor, 1983
McGraw-Hill Book Company
New York Times Book of Sports Legends
edited by Joseph J. Vecchione.
Introduction by Ira Berkow 1991
New York Times Company
Seasons to Remember The Way It Was in American Sports 1945-1960
Curt Gowdy with John Powers, 1993
Baseball's Pivotal Era 1945-1951
William Marshall, 1999
University Press of Kentucky
Baseball's Greatest Quotations
Paul Dickson, 1991
Harper Collins Publishers
The Best American Sports Writing of the Century
David Halberstam, Editor
Glenn Stout, Series Editor 1999
Houghton Mifflin Company
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