Zach – The world is a better place because of a baseball player named Jackie Robinson. I usually go after the more obscure and esoteric parts of history, but in this case we will be telling a part of history that I don’t think can be told enough. This is one of those rare moments in history where one man stands in the spotlight and changes everything around him.
Anna – To help us with telling the story of this great man, we have with us Countess Matilda of Tuscany, Jane Austen, Julius Caesar and Gaspar Correia.
Zach – I thought Olga was coming.
Anna – I may have accidentally told her about a building demolition that doesn’t actually exist.
Caesar – Very good, then we can discuss Mr. Robinson in peace.
Zach – Let’s start at the beginning. He was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo Georgia. His family were sharecroppers which meant they rented a small plot of land for farming. But a year later his father left and his mother, Mallie, took the family to California. With other members of their extended family they rented a plot and built two houses. Jackie was the only minority kid on his block and faced discrimination from an early age.
Anna – That had to be rough on the poor child. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do without my father.
Matilda – I could have done without my father.
Anna – Jackie had older brothers named Mack and Frank. Mack was a star athlete himself and went to the Olympics and he inspired Jackie to rise and make something of himself. He didn’t have a father, but he had good older brothers.
Caesar – Perhaps Mr. Robinson should have been born in Greece because he would have fit their ideal of the athlete. He was good at every sport he played even from a young age. He played baseball, basketball, tennis, football and track and field. Quite an accomplishment for any Greek.
Anna – I imagine he would have been a fantastic chariot driver. We would have made statues of him for our Hippodrome.
Zach – I’m sure if we still had chariot races he would have rocked them. In college his won several awards and broke his brother, Mack’s Broad Jump record. Now, the thing is, almost all of his team mates were white. So here we see Jackie with experience dealing with a majority of white team members. This experience will came in extremely useful later on.
Anna – It wasn’t just his athletics either. He was awarded membership in the “Order of the Mast and Dagger” which is for outstanding service to the school and whose scholastic and citizenship record is worthy of recognition. Not bad.
Matilda – But now we’ll look at another side of his character. While at Pasadena Junior College, Jackie Robinson got into an argument with police about an unjust arrest of another black student. This wasn’t the first or last. Jackie always fought against segregation and racism wherever he found it. He bristled under it and would not accept it like he was told to do. He was one of the Fearless: the few in history that stood up for their beliefs no matter what.
Zach – Then his brother Frank died in a motorcycle accident. He was close to his brother and went to UCLA to be closer to Frank’s family. Well, one thing I should mention. He played a lot of sports and rocked them all, but Baseball was considered his worst sport.
Jane Austen- That wasn’t all Mr. Robinson won. While at UCLA, he fell in love with Rachel Isum. They would eventually marry. I’m sure it was a beautiful love story. Perhaps I should write it one day. Her parents were against it at first because Jackie quite college to go professional with his sports. He even went to Hawaii for a short time and played football on their integrated team. There must always be an obstacle.
Gaspar – It was at this time that he visited a Shoalin temple deep in the Tibetan Mountains. He spent a year training and then wandered the earth, righting wrongs and helping people…
Anna – Gaspar.
Gaspar – Yes, my dear Anna?
Anna – Please stop.
Gaspar – Its not my fault you’re afraid to face real history.
Matilda – Let us move on. His semi-professional career was interrupted by the Second World War. Like so many other men at this time, he enlisted. He was assigned to the cavalry. Zach, I believe you were in the cavalry, weren’t you?
Zach – Just for one boring year in Iraq.
Anna – My father, Alexios I was a cavalry man.
Matilda – Yes, we know, You’ve told us a hundred times. But Jackie faced a different battle other than the Holy Roman Empire.
Zach – Nazi Germany. The Empire was long gone, Matilda. It was Nazi Germany then.
Matilda – If you say so. Jackie’s battle in the army was against racism. The army buses made black people sit in the back and Jackie refused. Military police were called and the bus driver pressed charges that included public intoxication even though Jackie didn’t drink. As a military woman myself, I have to add that creating divisiveness in your army is never a good thing. Well, Jackie was court marshaled which is a fancy word for “trial.” He was found innocent because he hadn’t actually done anything wrong. His court Marshal prevented him from going over seas and the army was deprived of what could have been an amazing hero.
Zach – After the war he played football for the bulldogs again and then coached basketball. Then in 1945 the Kansas City Monarchs sent him a contract. He accepted and began his professional baseball career that would shape the rest of his life. The pay was much better but the constant traveling by bus meant he was away from his family far too often. During that time the Boston Red Sox held a try-out for black players. Jackie tried out but unfortunately it was a shame. The Red Sox just wanted to look like they weren’t a bunch of racist douche bags so they could continue to be racist douche bags in peace. They were the last team to became racially integrated. Red Sox, you suck.
Jane Austen- Then entered an amazing man by the name of Branch Rickey. This was a unique man. He was an idealist. In my time I was an abolitionist and I believe he would have bee as well. His younger years were spent playing sports and he had a passion for baseball. The only thing standing in his way was that he was no good at it. So, Branch Rickey went to college and learned how to manage sports teams instead. A sensible turn of advents, I say. Through a long and colorful career that included setting up the minor leagues as a farming system for new talent, he eventually became the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, Branch saw a cancer in the game he loved so much. His devote religious faith installed him with a belief that all men were equal under the eyes of God and he believed that segregation in baseball was an evil he had to fight. He also saw the business end of it in the fact that some of those black players were better than his white major league players and that he could get them cheaper and before any other ML team did. He was a visionary but also a practical man.
Matilda – Branch looked through many candidates for his first black major league player and he passed by several that were actually better players than Jackie. Branch was looking for someone special though. He was looking for someone with courage and inner strength.He found the qualities he was seeking in Jackie Robinson. In August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met Branch Rickey for the first time and the meeting was a grueling three hours. Branch had to find out if Jackie was capable of standing up to the discrimination he knew would attack Jackie from all angles. He knew he’d face opposition from his team mates, from players on other teams and from the audience. Branch told Jackie that no matter what, he could not fight back. No matter how justified it would be, they’d make it look like he was at fault. Using his Christian faith, Branch told him to turn the other cheek. Jackie couldn’t believe this at first and asked, “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Branch said, “No.” That he was looking for a man “with guts enough not to fight back.” Jackie agreed.
Zach – But first he had to prove himself in the minor leagues and played for the Dodger’s affiliate minor league team the “Royals” down in Daytona Florida. There he faced strong discrimination including a sheriff that threatened to close the ball park and some places that wouldn’t let them play if Jackie played. But somehow Jackie held his head up high and continued to play ball. In his first official game as the first black man to play in the minor leagues, the opponent’s pitcher was told to throw the ball at Jackie’s head. The pitcher refused and Jackie got a home run that first game. Very cool. If that isn’t sticking it to the man, I don’t know what is.
Anna – And something more surprising was that the public grew to love Jackie. His fanbase grew and attendance to the Hippodrome broke records.
Zach – Not Hippodrome.
Anna – Whatever.
Matilda – On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League baseball player. The stadium was packed and Jackie stole home that first game, his signature move. But things were not all happy. In the team some players threatened to leave and the manager gathered them all together and told them in no uncertain terms “I do not 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 us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” That ended the little mutiny right on the spot.
Zach – During one game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, taunted Jackie relentlessly the whole game. This however had the opposite effect Ben was hoping for. When players and the audience saw the abuse Jackie was subjected to, they actually rallied around Jackie and people grew far more supportive. One of Jackie’s biggest supporters on the team was a man named Pee Wee Reese. During one game where audience members were shouting rude things at Jackie, Pee Wee put his arm around Jackie to show them that he supported him. They later made a statue of that famous scene.
Gaspar – Jackie Robinson continued to beat his opponents by playing Baseball and playing it better than they did. He held his poise and never fought back. This was a man that walked out into a stadium with thousands of people throwing curses at him and looked them in the eye. Few could say that they could do such a thing. Martin Luther Jr. said he was “a legend and a symbol in his own time”, and that he “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.” He opened the door for black people in sports. He was the first and as the first he had all the attention of the haters. Someone had to do it and the world was fortunate that it was a man of such integrity.
Jane Austen – Gaspar, that was actually…nice.
Gaspar – There’s nothing I can add to this man’s story to make it more heroic.
Zach – Jackie spent the rest of his life helping others. He fought discrimination where he found it and helped minority children rise above poverty and become great men through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. On and off the field he was an amazing man that we should look to as a symbol of determination. He was one of the Fearless.
Don’t forget Zach’s book. Fearless: Powerful Women of History.