It is somewhat ironic and more than somewhat somewhat unfortunate that a sport which segregated players by color for so long should now exalt a player because of his color. Such is the contradiction of affirmative action, I suppose, and the bane of political correctness.
Jackie Robinson was a pretty good multi-tool player - he was voted the National League's MVP in 1949 when he hit a league-leading .342 and drove in 124 runs. His 10-year batting average was .311 and he set several fielding records for second basemen. He could run the bases with the best of them, leading the NL in steals twice and topping 20 SB 5 times in 6 years.
That said, the legend of Robinson is, of course, substantially exaggerated because he was the first black man to play in the majors in the 20th century, to win the MVP award, and to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Robinson broke Baseball's color barrier when Branch Rickey brought him up to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and was followed by Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians 11 weeks later.
Robinson was the first black man to play in the majors in the 20th century, to win the MVP award, and to be elected to the Hall of Fame; was also the first Rookie of the Year and the first baseball player, black or white, on an American postage stamp. Robinson's 37 steals in 1949 not only led the majors (he'd led the NL with 29 his rookie season), it was the highest in the NL in 19 years. He stole home 19 times in his career, the most since WWI, and in 1955 (at age 36) became one of only 12 to steal home in the World Series.
Since 19th-century star Cap Anson refused to appear with black pitcher Harry Stovey, blacks had been informally barred from the majors. Near the end of WWII, Dodger's executive Branch Rickey assigned scouts to recruit for what he told them would be a Dodgers-owned Negro League team. He was really looking for the right ballplayer to break the color line. Clyde Sukeforth found Robinson playing shortstop for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs.
In a meeting which has been portrayed and described many times since, Rickey confronted Robinson with the wide range of abuse he knew Robinson would face. Robinson finally blew up, asking Rickey, "Do you want a player afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he wanted someone "with the guts not to fight back." Robinson promised a passive response and kept his word, not an easy task for a man who had faced an army court martial for refusing to move to the back of a bus.
Robinson's agreement with Rickey only required silence for one full season. When he started to speak out, he became a major public figure. In 1949 he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee to rebut Paul Robeson's contention that American blacks would not fight against the Soviet Union because of racism at home.
In 1962 Robinson and Bob Feller were the first elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility since Lou Gehrig in 1939.
"The field was even greener than my boy's mind had pictured it. In later years, friends of ours
visited Ireland and said the grass there was plenty green all right, but that not even the
Emerald Isle itself was as green as the grass that grew in Ebbets Field."
- Duke Snider
"We wept, Brooklyn was a lovely place to hit. If you got a ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out.
When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me."
- Duke Snider
"Snider, Mantle and Mays. You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best.
One point was beyond argument, though. Willie was by all odds the most exciting."
- Red Smith
Picture from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.
|BASEBALL: Scores / Schedules | Standings | Stats | Transactions | Injuries|