Monday, April 15, 2013
66 years ago today Jackie Robinson did the deed. Baseball's "color line" collapsed and the stage was set for integration of most societal and cultural institutions in this country. The ball rolled. It rolled into the Supreme Court school desegregation decision of 1954, the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington and every incarnation of Martin Luther King's dream vision. It's still rollong, isn't it? Like Rosa Parks, Jackie has become a cultural icon. His story is told anew in a new film called 42 and his legacy is firmly established. Robinson was soon followed by Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Satchel Paige, and of course Willie Mays. Of those mentioned only Willie is around to see how much has changed. He sees quite a bit too. He sees players of color making more in a few seasons than he made in a lifetime. He sees African American baseball players on the wane as the Latino presence increases. He sees most African Americans even priced out of attending a ball game because an evening at the ballpark can go upwards of $100 for two. I'm hopeful that as Jackie Robinson's story gets retold this time some of the teammates who helped ease this transition will be recognized for the role they played. I saw Don Newcome, one of the first African American pitchers in the big leagues and a Dodger teammate of Robinson, on an interview sports program the other day. He spoke about the difficulty in staying at the same hotel as his teammates and then was asked about he team members who both helped and hindered Jackie's early days on the team. Newcome didn't want to name the names of the detractors. It's easy to figure out who many of those guys were because of their Southern roots. But he did single out the guys who were most supportive and often came to Robinson's defense. He recognized Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snyder. Funny how these were among the best on the team. Accompanying this post is a photo I received from an uncle of mine who was a newspaper reporter in New York back in the 40s and 50s. He used to scoop up the castoff photos from the sports pages and send them to his little nephew in California. Seen here is Duke Snyder being welcomed back into the dugout at Ebbets Field by his Dodger teammates. Robinson (#42) is on the far right. Most of the others mentioned here are in the photo too, as well as a young Jim Gilliam who was one of the first to benefit from Robinson opening the door. It's a long road back to professional baseball in the late 1940s. But Jackie Robinson's story is not just his story (history) it's our story.