Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Jackie Robinson

"Jackie was the greatest competitor I ever saw. He didn't win. He triumphed."
--Ralph Branca, Dodger pitcher, 1947

I am reading Baseball (100 Years of The Modern Era: 1901-2000): From The Archives Of “The Sporting News.” One of the fascinating things in this book is a copy of a baseball questionnaire that Jackie Robinson returned to The Sporting News in 1947.

For those of you who don’t know the name, Jackie Robinson was “the man who broke the (Baseball) color barrier” in 1947. The first black man to play the game in the Major Leagues. Jackie Robinson was a living definition of grace under pressure. No matter what type of racial slur was hurled at him, he kept his mouth shut and never reacted to them. Of course, that didn’t mean he never passed up the chance to tag some racist SOB out with a backhanded smack of his glove so powerful that the butthead felt a little woozy as he walked off the field. Still, I’m sure the intense pressure of being the first contributed to his death at the early age of 53.

Anyway, this questionnaire asks about baseball ( playing position, bat left or right, throw left or right, baseball experience) and the personal (born where, height, weight, etc.) but the thing that grabbed my attention was the line that asked Nationality. Here Jackie Robinson has written square in the middle of the line, “American,” then squeezed into the remaining space is the word, “Negro,” as if it was added as an afterthought. The first three letter,” Neg,” are written on the line but the last two letter,” ro,” are falling away. The “r” is barely hanging on to the line and the “o” is dangling in space. Looking at that saddens me. Talk about a visual statement showing how black people were seen in America at the time. Not just as Americans but with that little qualifier added; “Negro.” Squeezed to the edge but hanging on.

Branch Rickey was the man who hired Jackie Robinson and at the time he said,” I look for this thing to take its natural course…The signing of a Negro will be no more news that the signing of a white boy.” Well, Branch Rickey was right, the color of a man’s skin is no longer newsworthy in baseball or any sport. So I guess we’ve come along way since those days. At the same time we still have a long way to go. I’m waiting for the day when a man like Al Sharpton can run for president confident in the belief that anyone voting against him will be doing so because they do not agree with his ideas and not because they don’t like the color of his skin.

No comments: