Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jackie Robinson Changed More Than Just A Game

Today is Jackie Robinson Day!

Nonviolent Revolutionary Jackie Robinson stepped onto the Ebbets Field baseball diamond for the first time on April 15, 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, desegregating the 'national pastime' and forever changing the landscape of the game of baseball and American culture as a whole.

So began the Hall Of Fame career of a legend whose exceptional skill set on the field were matched with equally exceptional courage and dignity in the face of brutal racial intolerance and ignorance directed at him... not just from the stands or the opposing dugout, but even within his own clubhouse.

In late August 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers club president and general manager, Nonviolent Revolutionary Branch Rickey, had a long conversation with Jackie wanting to know if he would be able to take the racial abuse he was sure to be subjected to without fighting back. "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Jackie asked. Rickey replied that he was looking for someone "with guts enough not to fight back." Jackie agreed and Rickey signed him to a contract for $600 a month.

"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me ... all I ask is that you respect me as a human
being." -Jackie Robinson

Jackie was constantly subjected to abuse throughout his career, but he did find allies amongst his peers, namely Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese coming 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. The moment is immortalized with a statue by sculptor William Behrends, which stands today at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn.

Robinson played for the Dodgers for 10 years and was the also the first African-American elected to the MLB Hall Of Fame in 1962. He exhibited the combination of hitting ability and speed which exemplified the new era. He scored more than 100 runs in six of his ten seasons and helped the Dodgers to a World Series victory in 1955. The clip below of Jackie stealing home is the most well known of the Series:

Highlights of Jackie to Woodrow Buddy Johnson & Count Basie's 1949 song
"Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?":

“There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” -Jackie Robinson

After his baseball career ended Robinson continued to work as a
civil rights activist working tirelessly for equality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that Jackie was "a legend and a symbol in his own time", and that he "challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration." (Dr. King was still a college student when Jackie took the field on April 15, 1947).

The clip below is of Jackie speaking at a civil rights rally in Birmingham, Alabama:

On the 50th anniversary of Jackie's debut for the Dodgers the league took the unprecedented step of retiring his number 42 throughout all of baseball helping cement his legacy as the pioneer who helped pave the way the game (and world) is today. In honor of his achievements his number is displayed in every Major League Baseball Stadium. That year also many players began the tradition of wearing number 42 on April 15th to honor Jackie.

10 years later MLB celebrated the inaugural Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated every year on April 15 at ballparks around the country.

Current players share their views on wearing number 42:

What Jackie Robinson Means to America 65 Years Later

Jackie Robinson Wikipedia Page

Jackie's Hall Of Fame Induction Speech

Other quotes attributed to Jackie:

“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.”

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

“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.”

“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.”

“I don't think that I or any other Negro, as an American citizen, should have to ask for anything that is rightfully his. We are demanding that we just be given the things that are rightfully ours and that we're not looking for anything else.”

“Civil rights is not by any means the only issue that concerns me--nor, I think any other Negro. As Americans, we have as much at stake in this country as anyone else. But since effective
participation in a democracy is based upon enjoyment of basic freedoms that everyone else takes for granted, we need make no apologies for being especially interested in catching up on civil rights.”

“I won't 'have it made' until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America.”

“It is up to us in the north to provide aid and support to those who are actually bearing the brunt
of the fight for equality down south. America has its iron curtain too.”

“Negroes aren't seeking anything which is not good for the nation as well as ourselves. In order
for America to be 100 per cent strong--economically, defensively, and morally--we cannot afford
the waste of having second-and-third class citizens.”

“Negroes aren't seeking anything which is not good for the nation as well as ourselves. In order
for America to be 100 per cent strong--economically, defensively, and morally--we cannot afford
the waste of having second-and-third class citizens.”

Career Numbers:

Batting average- .311

Hits- 1,518

Home runs- 137

Runs batted in- 734

Stolen bases- 137 *including 19 steals of home

6 time All Star ('49-'54)

1947 Rookie Of The Year

1949 MVP

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