Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and if all had gone according to plan, the Dodgers would have been celebrating Jackie Robinson Day tonight as they hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
But all has not gone according to plan. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember and celebrate the greatest Dodger of all.
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So today’s newsletter has only one focus: Jackie Robinson. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major-league debut at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623. He walked and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5–3 victory. Thus began one of the most amazing careers in sports history. Robinson broke the color barrier and faced challenges few major leaguers ever had to endure.
Some players on his own team didn’t want to play alongside him, starting a petition saying they would rather not be his teammate. Manager Leo Durocher’s response: “I don’t care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a …. zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make all of us rich. And if any of you can’t use the money, I will see that you are traded.”
Players on other teams called him every racial insult in the book. Some opposing managers were worse. Fans, some of them little kids parroting what their parents were saying, called him vile names. And Robinson could have only one response: No response at all. Give in and lose his temper, then the racists would say “See, his kind aren’t strong enough to play in the majors.” It would be used as leverage to kick him out and keep the majors “pure.”
So, Robinson took it. But he not only had to take it, he also had to play at a high level to prove African Americans could play in the majors. He ran the bases with abandon. He excelled as a fielder no matter where they put him. He led the Dodgers to victory after victory, including their first World Series title in 1955.
Imagine trying to do your job every day with thousands of people surrounding you, hurling racist taunts. Imagine going on vacation and not being able to stay in the same place your co-workers, but being forced to room with someone across town. Imagine having a wife and child who have to go through the same thing. Imagine a policeman coming into your workplace and threatening to arrest you and shut down your business unless you left, because they don’t appreciate “your kind” in their city. Imagine getting death threats every day in the mail.
Most people would not be able to do what Robinson did. He set the example that players such as Larry Doby of Cleveland, the first African American in the American League, were able to follow.
It’s sad that sometimes I will hear fans of other teams complain that Robinson’s 42 is retired and listed alongside the numbers of the legends from their team, because “he didn’t play for their team.”
Even now, some people will try and find flaws that Robinson had in order to cut him down. What they don’t realize is that pointing out whatever flaws he had doesn’t make him seem less impressive, it makes him even more impressive. Because it shows he was an imperfect man who performed one of the most perfect human achievements of all time.
But words don’t adequately describe what Jackie Robinson did or what he went through. They can’t. It’s embarrassing to even try.
What’s a good way to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day? Find anyone you know under the age of 18 and make sure they know who Jackie Robinson was and what he did. Don’t let his memory be forgotten. Show them the movie “42.” Give them a book on Robinson. Or sit down and talk to them about him. It’s the best gift you can give them.
In his own words
Some of the best quotes from Jackie Robinson:
“Plenty of times I wanted to haul off when somebody insulted me for the color of my skin, but I had to hold to myself. I knew I was kind of an experiment. The whole thing was bigger than me.”
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
“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.”
“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”
“During my life, I have had a few nightmares which happened to me while I was wide awake.”
“I’m grateful for all the breaks and honors and opportunities I’ve had, but I always believe I won’t have it made until the humblest black kid in the most remote backwoods of America has it made.”
“Many people resented my impatience and honesty, but I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect.”
“Negroes aren’t seeking anything which is not good for the nation as well as ourselves. In order for America to be 100% strong — economically, defensively and morally — we cannot afford the waste of having second- and third-class citizens.”
“Blacks have had to learn to protect themselves by being cynical but not cynical enough to slam the door on potential opportunities. We go through life walking a tightrope to prevent too much disillusionment.”
“Above anything else, I hate to lose.”
Jackie Robinson is interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1972. Watch it here.