Pioneer ballplayer won't be forgotten

  • Follow Opinion columns

I was 19 years old and attending the City College of New York when it was announced that Jackie Robinson was coming from a minor-league farm team, the Montreal Royals, to the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a born-in-Brooklyn fan, this was great news. Robinson’s exploits had been in all the sports pages, and we couldn’t wait to bring him on board.

As a teenager, I enjoyed the 50-cent bleacher seats at Ebbets Field on many Saturdays, rooting for my home team with a passion like the millions of fans in Brooklyn. With no air conditioning and the windows open in the summer months, it was usual to hear Red Barber announcing the game on the radio as you walked past any house or apartment with doors open to get cooler air.

Growing up, I had to face Giants and Yankees fans on days when Brooklyn lost, and I just waited for the time when I could give it to them back. Worse luck, my father was a Giants fan who smiled confidently that his team would beat all. In addition, the constant failure of “Dem Bums” to win the pennant in the National League was like a plague visited upon us who, at the end of the season, had to announce “Wait ’til next year!”

When Robinson came to the Dodgers, fans knew they were getting a great player. What many of us did not fully realize was the impact that the first non-white player would have on the major leagues.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE to see him? If you arrived at beautiful Ebbets early to see infield practice (no longer done) suddenly there he was, black as pitch, in his white flannel uniform throwing and working first base and second base, clearly standing out wearing his number 42. The crowd was big and loud as we anticipated that Robinson would come to bat soon. When he did, the roar got louder as the fans encouraged him to get the big hit as he batted from the right side. Even manager Leo Durocher stood at the top step of the dugout clapping his hands to encourage him. We had no idea of the pressure he was under.

When he drew a walk, Robinson began to show his greatness. He danced toward second base, taunting the pitcher that he would steal. The crowd was into it, urging him to go. Suddenly, with blinding speed, he was off to second base sliding in with spikes high. The ball, thrown to catch him, was off the mark into center field and Robinson got up and sped to third. Spectators patted one another on the back.

It got even better. When the pitcher wound up to throw to the next batter, Robinson raced three-quarters the way to home, taking the pitcher’s mind off the batter. “Go Jackie go!” the crowd screamed. The pitcher threw the ball over the catcher’s head and Jackie danced home. We all knew Jackie would bring us the pennant.

WHAT WE DIDN’T know is that the crowds were not the same in opposing ballparks. When he went to St. Louis and Cincinnati, every epithet in the book was spat at him. Somehow this didn’t make it to the New York papers. Again, to us he was a great ballplayer, and Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ president and general manager, had brought us a winner. What we should have realized was that Rickey had taken it upon himself not only to change baseball but to show the equality of black and white. No one could have imagined that the skills of Robinson would force even naysayers and racists to finally admire him.

You also have to give credit to the Dodgers fans who stood behind him for the 10 yearsRobinson played – not just because of his color but because he was one of the great players and human beings of our time. His imprint stays with me always. I feel fortunate that I was there when the first black man entered major-league baseball and changed our world forever. Few will ever forget the scene of one black player among a sea of white uniforms and faces, and the crowd chanting “Go Jackie!”

(The writer is chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party. Robinson first appeared in the Dodgers line-up on this date in 1947.)

Comments (5) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Riverman1
87013
Points
Riverman1 04/15/13 - 06:36 am
4
0
Dr. Greenbaum, great

Dr. Greenbaum, great recollection of NY, Dodgers and Jackie. A side story is the way Pee Wee Reese encouraged Jackie.

Bodhisattva
6466
Points
Bodhisattva 04/15/13 - 07:17 am
0
0
I doubt many ballplayers
Unpublished

I doubt many ballplayers today would be happy with the nickname "Pee Wee". A couple of sites with true vs. fiction about the new movie.

http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/42-movie-jackie-robinson.php

http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/20917/did-reese-really...

soapy_725
43772
Points
soapy_725 04/15/13 - 07:23 am
0
0
Compare that to 2013 MLB......
Unpublished

where the only white face on the field is either a pitcher or catcher. Or the NBA and WNBA where there are no white faces. Or the NFL or Professional boxing, or etc. Only the PGA and LPGA have a problem.

Jackie Robinson's athletic skills on the ball field are used for "race baiting" by Greenbaum and many others.

Was Jackie hired for his skills and work ethic or his skin color? MLK would want to know and then tell you to shut up about the first "black man".

RMSHEFF
16680
Points
RMSHEFF 04/15/13 - 01:48 pm
2
1
Lowell

Did you know that Jackie Robinson was a REPUBLICAN !! This may change your opinion of him !

KSL
134593
Points
KSL 04/15/13 - 07:50 pm
1
1
Thanks for the memories. My

Thanks for the memories. My dad grew up in Brooklyn and probably would have played with the Dodgers, or at least one of their farm teams. He had one of the best batting averages, if not the best, the year he graduated from high school. He used to hang out with some of the Dodgers at Coney Island. As he was 17 when he graduated, he was not allowed to sign with them without parental consent. The best he could was to agree that if he ever played baseball professionally, it would be for them.

WW 2 and a marriage before shipping out to the Pacific interfered with that.

By the way, a relative of ours designed Ebbets Field (my grandmother was Dutch, family having settled there in the 1600's).

KSL
134593
Points
KSL 04/15/13 - 10:09 pm
0
1
My dad remained a Dodgers fan

My dad remained a Dodgers fan after they moved to LA. I always hoped he would take me to LA to see a game, but he never did. I wanted to see them play at their home field, not in Atlanta where the fans of the Braves were particularly obnoxious when the Dodgers were in town.

KSL
134593
Points
KSL 04/15/13 - 10:14 pm
0
1
The year my son graduated

The year my son graduated from college, had the Dodgers needed one more pitcher, he would have been offered a contract, according to the scout.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Augusta Warrior Project chosen for caregiver services

A local non-profit agency that helps returning military veterans adjust to life after combat is going to be part of a national program to coach their families as well.
Search Augusta jobs