|Cooperstown - Written by Lowell Reidenbaugh - from the Sporting News - 1983 Hard Cover Book |
Jackie Robinson - In the aftermath of World War II, Branch Rickey decided that the social climate of the United States was at last favorable for implementing a plan that he had held in abeyance for a number of years. The Mahatma of Brooklyn determined that the time was ripe for all-white major league baseball to admit a black player. The pioneer could not be just any black athlete, but one who measured up to the standards established by the Dodgers' president.
The player had to be a college product, a competitor, an intelligent individual with baseball talent who had the moral and physical courage to shrug off the on-field insults with remarkable displays of self-control.
Rickey's search for this extraordinary person ended with Jackie Robinson, a former three-sport star at UCLA and an Army lieutenant in World War II before joining the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues as a shortstop.
Rickey subjected Robinson to withering blasts of profanity and obscenity before he was convinced that the athlete possessed the discipline to hold his tongue. Only then was Jackie signed to a 1946 contract with the Montreal farm club.
Robinson won the batting championship of the International League, which ordinarily was enough of a credential for a cordial major league welcome. But the major leagues were unprepared for a social upheaval. Club owners voted 15 to 1 against the pioneering venture before Commissioner A. B. (Happy) Chandler gave his overriding approval.
Acceptance was a different matter. Once, in infield practice, Jackie was taking a blistering salvo from the opposing dugout when shortstop captain Pee Wee Reese, a Kentuckian, laid a consoling hand on Robinson's shoulder as if to warn opponents, "He's my teammate, lay off." reports were circulated that the Cardinals were plotting to strike their games with the Dodgers, until National League President Ford Frick threatened life banishment for anyone guilty of such actions.
Nor did all the Dodgers greet Jackie warmly. Outfielder Dixie Walker, a Georgian, was noticeably cool until he determined that Robinson was an asset to the team, at which point he gave the newcomer batting tips.
"I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there," Robinson wrote in his autobiography.
But Jackie fought fiercely, and the Dodgers won because of him. In Robinson's 10 seasons with Brooklyn, the Dodgers won six pennants and one world championship. Jackie was the Rookie of the Year in 1947 and the N.L's Most Valuable Player two years later when he won the batting championship.
Robinson was a pressure player of the highest order. On the last day of the regular season in 1951, when the Giants had already won and assured themselves of a pennant tie, the Dodgers were locked in an extra-inning game at Philadelphia. The Phillies loaded the bases with two outs in the 12th inning when Jackie made a diving catch of a wicked line drive. In doing so, however, he jammed an elbow into his stomach and was knocked unconscious.
Two innings later Robinson socked a game-winning homer that created a pennant tie (which was resolved in the historic playoff with the Giants).
After the 1956 season Jackie, then 37, was traded to the Giants. Rather than report, however, he announced his retirement in a bylined article in Look magazine. Robinson went on to hold numerous executive positions within the business community. He was chairman of the board of the Freedom National Bank. Less than two weeks after Jackie was honored at the 1972 World Series, he suffered his second heart attack at his Stamford, Conn., home and died at age 53. baseballhistorian.com