Posts tagged major league baseball

Major League trailblazer — Jackie Robinson story (part two)



Yesterday, we started the courageous story of Jackie Robinson as shared in Stepping Up.  Today, we continue the story in part two …

Stepping Up FamilyLife Jackie Robinson sliding-2

photo from http://www.myhero.com/

Handling the pressure

Rickey turned out to be an accurate prophet. After a successful year in the minor leagues, Robinson made his major-league debut as the Dodgers’ first baseman in April of 1947. The first resentment he faced was from his own teammates. They didn’t like the idea of a black player taking a white man’s spot on the roster. Many were from the south and weren’t accustomed to equal treatment for blacks.

Dixie Walker, one of the top Brooklyn players, worried about the reaction back home in Hueytown, Alabama, if he played with blacks. He feared how it would affect business at his hardware and sporting-goods store. “I grew up in the South, and in those days you grew up in a different manner,” Walker said years later. “We thought that blacks didn’t have ice water in their veins and so [they] couldn’t take the pressure of playing big league baseball.”

On opening day, most of the players ignored Robinson. He arrived in the locker room to discover that he hadn’t been assigned a locker; his uniform was hanging on a hook on the wall.

Robinson’s first real test occurred in a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies. A flood of insults poured out of the Philadelphia dugout during the game. The Phillies insulted his appearance and yelled about the diseases he would pass on to the Dodger players and their wives.

Robinson took insults like these personally. “For one wild and rage-crazed minute,” he wrote later, “I thought, ‘To hell with Mr. Rickey’s noble experiment.’ I thought what a glorious, cleansing thing it would be to let go. To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. I would throw down my bat, stride over to the Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all.”

But Robinson withstood the temptation that day . . . and for the entire season. Instead, he let his playing speak for him. It was more than his hitting and fielding, which improved throughout the season. He also disrupted the opposing team with his daring base running. He would take impossibly big leads off base, throwing pitchers out of their rhythm and shaking their confidence. This led to more walks and better pitches for his teammates to hit. He could take over a game even if he never got a hit.

Still, he paid a price for holding back his emotions. At home he became withdrawn from his wife, Rachel, and found it difficult to sleep. At one point he called his sister and said, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m quitting.”

He received almost no support from his teammates, who excluded him from social outings and hardly spoke to him on road trips. The players’ wives met regularly for shopping, knitting, and impromptu sleepovers, but Rachel was never invited.

Rooting for Jackie Robinson

But as the season progressed, things began to change. His teammates began yelling in his defense at opposing teams, threatening retaliation if the insults continued. He was greeted by well-wishers and autograph seekers wherever he went. White kids began selling, “I’m rooting for Jackie Robinson” buttons at Ebbets Field.

Most of the letters the Dodgers received were encouraging. One fan wrote, “You’ve got a lot more friends in this country of ours than enemies. The main thing to remember is that it’s the unthinking few who generally make the biggest noise.” Another said, “If your batting average never gets any higher than .100 and if you make an error every inning, [and] if I can raise my boy to be half the man that you are, I’ll be a happy father.”

Robinson also began to see the impact he was having on the culture. An owner of an electronics factory in New Jersey, for example, was inspired by Robinson’s example and decided to integrate his factory.

Late in the season, Brooklyn fans were angered when Enos Slaughter of the St. Louis Cardinals appeared to deliberately step on Robinson’s foot at first base. One fan, Doug Wilder, was at the game that day, and he felt this may have been Robinson’s greatest moment “in showing how he would rise over and over to be the person he was. . . . It was a tremendous lesson.”  Later in life, Wilder went into politics in Virginia and became the first African American in the United States to become a governor.

Robinson was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1947, and he helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees. After the final game of the series, each of his teammates came by his locker to congratulate him for the season.

He had succeeded in integrating the major leagues; in fact, by the end of the 1947 season, there were other black players in baseball. But his greatest impact may have been in the broader American culture. As Arnold Rampersad wrote in his biography of Robinson,

Over a period of six months, from the first stumbling steps to the victories that closed the season, he had revolutionized the image of black Americans in the eyes of many whites. Starting out as a token, he had utterly complicated their sense of the nature of black people, how they thought and felt, their dignity and their courage in the face of adversity. No black American man had ever shone so brightly for so long as the epitome not only of stoic endurance but also of intelligence, bravery, physical power, and grit. Because baseball was lodged so deeply in the average white man’s psyche, Robinson’s protracted victory had left an intimate mark there.

Final post tomorrow…

Excerpted with permission from Stepping Up, by Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Publishing.

A Major League trailblazer — Jackie Robinson’s story (part one)



This week, Major League Baseball’s first pitch was tossed for the 2013 season.  There’s an upcoming movie, “42”, about the man — Jackie Robinson.  And in the book, Stepping Up, we shared the story of Jackie Robinson.  The next few blog posts will be selections from that chapter, sharing the impact that he had on Major League Baseball, his personal courage and integrity to team with Branch Rickey to become the player that would break the racial barriers that existed in Major League Baseball and across the nation.

Jackie Robinson didn’t see much of a future for himself in professional baseball.

Stepping Up FamilyLife Jackie-Robinson

photo from Think Positive magazine, http://74.53.231.70/~thinktpm/

The year was 1945, and he was twenty-six. A UCLA graduate and World War II veteran, he was trying to make a living by playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. He hadn’t played much baseball; he was better known as a football star at UCLA. But when the Monarchs offered him a job, he decided to give it a try.

Jackie was infuriated by the indignities that black ballplayers faced. In some stadiums, they weren’t allowed to use the locker rooms because white owners didn’t like the idea of black men using the showers. He hated the segregated hotels and drinking fountains. In one instance, when the team bus stopped for gas and the station owner said the players couldn’t use his restroom, Robinson threatened to fill up the team’s bus at another station. The owner changed his mind.

And, of course, the worst indignity of all was the fact that Major League Baseball was segregated. For decades, some of the best baseball players in the nation —  legends like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson—were kept out of the big leagues. Robinson saw no hope for the situation changing, or for the opportunity to move up and play baseball in the whites-only major leagues. “I began to wonder why I should dedicate my life to a career where the boundaries for progress were set by racial discrimination,” he later wrote.

A legendary meeting

Robinson was contacted by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Word was that Rickey was forming a new Negro league and wanted to talk with Robinson about joining it.

Robinson’s meeting with Rickey on August 28, 1945, became a turning point in America’s history. Robinson learned that Rickey had no intention of starting another Negro league. Instead, he wanted to break the color barrier in professional baseball . . . and he wanted Jackie Robinson to lead the way by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rickey could have chosen better players, but he was looking for someone with the right character. He had no illusions about the pressure that the first black ballplayer would face — the hatred he would encounter from white players, and the impossible expectations he would feel from the black community. He wanted someone who was angry about segregation but could keep that anger in check. Choose the wrong player, he felt, and he would push the cause back by years

“If you’re a good enough man, we can make this a start in the right direction,” Rickey told Robinson. “But let me tell you, it’s going to take an awful lot of courage.”

In the meeting, Rickey confronted Robinson with examples of the situations he would face. He acted the part of ballplayers using racial slurs and trying to start fights. “They’ll taunt and goad you,” he said. “They’ll try to provoke a race riot in the ballpark. This is the way to prove to the public that a Negro should not be allowed in the major league.”

“Mr. Rickey,” Robinson said, “are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” “No,” Rickey replied, “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Robinson wondered if he was the right person for this. Did he have that kind of strength and courage? “Yet I knew that I must,” Robinson later wrote. “I had to do it for so many reasons. For black youth, for my mother, for Rae [his wife], for myself.”

Continued next post…

Excerpted with permission from Stepping Up, by Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Publishing.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.