by Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton
CW-6 San Diego
At historic Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Florida, where Dodgers blue was part of springtime from post World War to till the mid 2010 era, there was a restaurant, a bar, and a media work center. right across from Holman Stadium, the old time Grapefruit Circuit home of the Dodgers, the stadium lined with palm trees.
The walls in the hallway were lined with historical black and white Dodgers pictures, some of LA vintage, most of Brooklyn fame.
The biggest mural stretched a good 20-feet long. A black and white picture of the Dodgers-vs-Phillies, sometime in the 1950s. It was a rundown between third and home plate.
There were 5-Phillies fielders in the picture, straddling the baseline, with Jackie Robinson in the middle of the run down. The picture struck a nerve chord in me.
This weekend the legendary Dodgers franchise erected a huge bronze statue at the Stadium, of Jackie Robinson, sliding into a base in his patented stolen base pose.
It was a moving ceremony, the Dodgers icons surrounding the bronze statue. Tom LaSorda, Vin Scully, Rachael Robinson and family. It was vintage history for a franchise with such a great historical past.
Jackie Robinson arrived so late to the majors, age 28, after his days at UCLA, in the army, then the Negro Leagues. He left life so early, done in by the weight of society he carried on his cast-iron frame, passing away at age 53, of diabetes and a heart attack.
He carried the burden of black America trying to bust thru the baseball color barrier. He was to pioneer how good players with the Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis Clowns, Homestead Grays and others were.
He would carry the banner of the black ball player, and be the shield against the racist vitrol of opposing players, managers, some media, redneck fans, biased umpires, hate-mailers and some bigoted teammates.
He would have to prove himself at the same time by learning to play different positions, and dealing with the greatest pitchers of that era, Spahn, Sain, Robin Roberts and the Yankees in the World Series.
He went hitless in that first game, though he did score a run when he got on via a misplayed bunt. Oddly, he went (0-20) that first week, another cement block around his neck, and the questions whether he should be sent back to the Montreal Royals.
Much has been made of the abuse he took early on, the Dodgers team petition, the curses, the beanballs, the black cat thrown on the field, and the hate mail threatening death.
The media did not make a big thing of his debut. In some of the 9-New York papers at that time, he was not mentioned until the 5th paragraph of the Dodgers-Braves game story.
There was no feature report on breaking the color line at Ebbets Field.
There was no TV at the time. You can only imagine if this were now, with the networks and social media.
He was referred to in a wide variety of ways, but never was the *N-word used.
“Colored third baseman. Speed Merchant. Muscular negro. Dark skinned player”. Those were the descriptions.
Columnists later that week referred to him as the ‘majors most discussed rookie’. Years later they saluted him as the ‘player who established the black man’s right to play.’
No mention of Branch Rickey, who chose Robinson based on talent and toughness of background. The debate still rages of the ratios in the decision by Rickey.
Conscience driven; driven to win with the best player he could get; or getting a talent because the negro fans money was green, equal to the white clientele, even if society did not think blacks and whites were equal.
That first day turned into a great first year, (.297) average, 12-homers, 36-stolen bases, and a flair and fire to win everyday.
When he was done, 10-years later, the stats read (.311-127HR-291 Stolen Bases) and played 3-infield positions and went to the World Series, winning finally in 1955, and then the Hall of Fame enshrinement.
There is no statistical category for how many other great players got to the majors quickly, from Larry Doby in Cleveland, to the Dodgers entourage led by Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella the next year.
We know his strength on the field. We can never come up with a statistic to measure his strength off the field, except to use the words courage and competitive.
The burden of all he experienced took a terrible toll on his life. He was Jessie Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Martin Luther King before their time.
The statue at Dodgers Stadium exceptional. The history of the Dodgers and all they have done with minorities is spectacular too.
And I think back to the first time I viewed that picture at Vero Beach-Dodgerstown. 5-white Phillies players chasing the Brooklyn Dodgers negro player, and it struck a nerve.
Jackie Robinson, always outnumbered, always with people out to get him. And he succeeded.
We remember him, we honor him, we should never forget him, his talent, his attitude, his greatness, his meaning.
Look what he became, look what he accomplished. Look at the beauty of the bronze statue at Dodgers Stadium.