“42–Day-Number to Remember”
Ever sit around a table, having beers with a close friend, talking baseball.
Tipping a Utica Club with my cousin from New York, a baseball fan too, we got into a discussion of ‘What If”.
What if you could have breakfast in heaven, who would you invite to sit at the table?
And the discussion raged.
My choices…my Dad, who died way too young, before I got to know him. If I could go back years, I’d ask him about growing up in the depression. His minor league baseball career. His service in the Navy seabees in World War II. Raising a family of six in tough times.
My choices…FDR…what it was like becoming President, trying to save the country from itself (Depression) and then save the country from the enemy (Nazis and the Japanese-World War II).
My final choice…Jackie Robinson…what he lived thru, what he lived with, what he accomplished with his life, given the opportunity by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I will see my dad in my next life and will have the chance to talk to him about all those unaswered questions, since he died so young.
Maybe I will cross paths with FDR too, for I have read 2-lengthy biographies of that life and those so very hard times.
As for Jackie Robinson, one of so many greats from the Boys of Summer era, we should never forget his impact on the game and the door he opened for so many others, from Newk to Campy to Elston Howard-Pumpsie Green and even Frank Robinson.
My extensive sports history library includes 6-different books about Jackie Robinson and the video ’42’ and assorted action pictures of his days in Brooklyn.
On Friday, baseball honors Robinson on the 75th Anniversary of his debut against the Boston Braves.
I researched the newspaper archives of the 9-daily papers that were in New York at that time. None made a big thing about the debut. Some never mentioned it (Herald-Tribune). Others referred to him at the end of the opening day game story (News-Mirror) by mentioning him as the first colored player, black player, negro player.
His debut came after spending a year with the Dodgers top farm club, the Montreal Royals in the International League. That came after a half year with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, where he hit (.376).
Prior to that was an athletic career full of baseball, football and track accomplishments at UCLA, with a tour of Army duty at Ft-Hood in Texas, which also included an attempted trial for Court Martial-insubordination for refusing to go to the back of the bus on the base
The 10-year Dodgers career was enthralling. He did not get to Ebbets Field till age 28.
He embarked on 6-straight .300-hitting seasons from age 30-on in Brooklyn…highlited by the MVP season of 1949 when he hit (.342-16HR-124RBI-37SB)..a season of accomplishment. Also lost in the numbers, he struck out just 24-times in 709-Plate Appearances. Add in he was beaned 72-times in that career and stole 200-bases in that span, as an aging star..
If I could, I would ask him about the times he wanted to quit? His special relationship with Branch Rickey? His loneliness in his own clubhouse? His life on the segregated road? The ugly bias of teammates? The hatred from the other dugout? The racist umpires he crossed paths with? His issues with then incoming owner Walter O’Malley.
His life after baseball was cut short, by diabetes, blindness, and then a heart attack.
His ceremonies infront of Dodgers fans, and his induction into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame were deemed special.
So was his post career work in industry, in politics, and for local causes.
He left us too early when he died 9-days after the Dodgers honored him, His life’s work has been carried on by his widow Rachael and family members.
The Dodgers traded him to the Giants after the 1956-season, and I remember as a young fan reading the shocking story of the deal and then his refusal to report to play for the enemy at the Polo Grounds, with this retirement story next.
I only saw him that final season of ’56 on Brooklyn games on TV. I went to Ebbets Field once, but he was gone from baseball by then. We relive his daring now thru the black and white film we have access too.
Everyone in baseball wears #42 on this Jackie Robinson-Friday, but not everyone knows or remembers who he was, what he did. I was astounded one year in the Padres clubhouse, 9-different players didn’t know the accomplishment of the guy who wore that number. Now everyone does.
We will remember his swing..his daring on the basepaths…the smile too. We will remember beanballs and high spike slides and daring steals and the power he displayed at the plate and on the bases..
I wish we could better understand how very hard it was, and the years of his life taken by the stress he had to endure.
I am looking forward to my lunch to come in heaven. Asking a dad I hardly knew, asking FDR, and asking Jackie all the important questions I have.
Friday is a great day in baseball history, honoring the player-the person-the man…Jackie Robinson.
#42 really #1 in baseball history for his impact on the game.