Author Topic: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson  (Read 390 times)

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Offline EasyAce

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God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« on: January 31, 2019, 06:51:14 PM »
Happy 100th birthday in heaven, Jackie Robinson---player, pioneer, man.
By Yours Truly
https://throneberryfields.com/2019/01/31/god-bless-you-please-mr-robinson/


Jackie Robinson celebrating in the Dodger clubhouse with (left) Hall
of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese, the Kentuckian whose refusal to
sign a petition against calling up Robinson was invaluable in
helping ease his acceptance; and (right), lefthanded pitcher
Preacher Roe, whose money pitch was a discreet spitball.


Jackie Robinson, whose centenary baseball as a whole plans to celebrate this season, had a playful side that isn’t often discussed when discussing the player and the man. After a few struggles with Connecticut realtors who flinched at the thought of a black family buying and building in some of the state’s more comfortable environs, two bankers rolled the dice for Robinson, his wife, Rachel, and their three children.

“Finally,” Rachel Robinson told Kahn, “we found one builder, Ben Gunner, a bank operated by two Jewish brothers, and they’d take the chance. Ben Gunner and I used to sit out and watch the water and talk and one day I told him I’d always wanted a fireplace for the bedroom. To surprise me, he built one. Then Ben thought children should have a secret staircase. He put one in, and a fireman’s pole . . . to slide down and so many extra things, for which he didn’t charge, he may have gone broke building this house for us. Nothing shakes it.”

Not long afterward, the Robinsons’ eldest son—a troubled young man singed by his experience in the Vietnam War, but trying to remake himself by working with addicts as a counselor at a treatment center called Daytop—was attacked when someone poleaxed him with a board, splitting his forehead open. At the time, his sister, Sharon, was married and living and working in Washington, D.C. (After a career as a nurse and teacher, like her mother, she has since written nine books and is an education consultant to MLB.) His younger brother, David, crossed the country to attend Stanford University. (He is now a longtime coffee farmer in Tanzania.) As Mrs. Robinson spoke to Kahn of the attack and Jack, Jr.’s brief hospitalisation, her husband occupied himself with Kahn’s young children before having to retrieve his son from the hospital.

“When Robinson found [my] older boy wanted to become an architect,” Kahn wrote in The Boys of Summer, “he showed him something of how the house was built. My younger son wanted to fish. Robinson found him a pole and baited the hook and pointed out a rock. ‘That’s the best place to fish from.’ He was playing peek-a-boo with my three year old daughter when the time came for him to leave. ‘You and the children stay,’ he pleaded. ‘I wish Rachel could see them playing. That’s what this house was built for, children’.”

Robinson himself at the time dealt with rising health issues. Now white-haired somewhat prematurely, perhaps a crown for a baseball prince who had to play the game harder while at first suppressing much as he began eroding its de facto segregation, Robinson was now under strict doctors’ orders. “I lost weight on doctor’s orders,” he told Kahn. “I have diabetes, high blood pressure, and I’ve had a heart attack. That’s because I never drink and I don’t smoke.”

Diabetes in fairness ran in his family; his brothers also dealt with it. His heart and diabetic issues would leave him almost blind and facing a likely leg amputation. The first heart attack left him bedridden for three weeks. A second heart attack would kill him in 1972, at 53, months after his old Dodgers teammate Gil Hodges died of his own second heart attack. Robinson was among those at the Hodges funeral and said, “Gil was always a calming presence. I always thought I’d be the first to go,” the first meaning from among the men he played with in ten Dodger seasons.

He retired from baseball at 37 thanks to the knees he’d punished for ten seasons finally resigning their commission. And he couldn’t retire without one last shenanigan thrown his way. Before he made his retirement public, the Dodgers traded him to the Giants, of all people, after the 1956 World Series loss, while Robinson accepted a commission to write about his retirement for Look. Unable as always he’d been to say “No comment,” Robinson then had to deal with a more generous contract offer from the Giants, until Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi told reporters he was sure Robinson would play no matter Look because “I know the guy and he likes money.”

Right then and there Robinson knew the retirement would hold, any lingering doubt erased when he awoke one morning to a knee swollen to the point where he couldn’t get out of bed. He entered the corporate world, working for Chock Full o’Nuts, the coffee company who’d created a chain of lunch counters staffed mostly by black people, before trying the insurance business and then food franchising. Before his death, Robinson assembled an enterprise he intended to build low-income housing using black capital and integrated builders and workmen.

He refused to surrender his belief in integration even in the face of rising militancy in the 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement. At a protest near a new state office building in Harlem, which was aimed at encouraging integration, Robinson—who warned the young black protestors that they’d lose if the project failed—assisted an elderly white man who’d been flattened from behind and knocked down by a pair of young black militants and listened to the young blacks hound him as an Oreo.

“They see me in a suit and tie and they look at my white hair and they’re too young to remember what I did or they don’t care,” he told Kahn. “I began to talk and someone shouted ‘Oreo.’ You know. The cookie that’s black on the outside and white underneath.” His Dodgers teammate Carl Erskine (“Oisk” to Brooklyn fans) understood.

“Now I hear people putting him down,” Erskine told Kahn, also for The Boys of Summer. “To [them] he’s a period piece. When I hear that, I feel sorry for them. [They] can never understand what Robinson did. How hard it was. What a great victory. But he can understand them. He was a young black man once, and mad and hurt. He knows their feeling, and their ignorance must hurt him more.”

Robinson often flinched when people pointed out that his business life proved unequal to his baseball life, but his baseball life was just that overwhelming. His major league career was a short one at ten seasons, for which you could thank the colour line plus World War II service. (Where he prevailed at an Army court martial after refusing to move to the back of an Army bus.)

But at this writing he rates as the number twelve second baseman ever to play the game according to the wins above replacement-level metric, which shows him at a peak value 8.4 points above the average Hall of Fame second baseman. He played all four infield positions and two outfield positions during his career, but he played far more at second and was rated there when elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 with Bob Feller.

He was a solid hitter and turned baserunning into guerrilla warfare that only begins with leading his league twice in stolen bases (in 1947 and 1949, a clear opening to returning the running game to baseball) and merely includes his having stolen home sixteen times in his career. He drove pitchers and defenders out of their thinkings; he produced 197 per 162 games almost more with his basepath tactics than with his bat.

“You want a guy that comes to play? This guy didn’t just come to play,” crowed Leo Durocher, who would have been Robinson’s first major league manager but for his suspension over consorting with gamblers in 1947. “He come to beat you. He come to stuff the goddam bat right up your ass.”

Said one of Durocher’s coaches and eventual Dodger manager Charlie Dressen, “Now on this team there’s some guys, they don’t like Robi’son. But that don’t mean shit because we’re gonna win the pennant and when they see it’s Robi’son getting them World Series money, he’s gonna look awful white awful fast.” Robinson helped get his Dodgers World Series money for six pennants and the only World Series championship of their life in Brooklyn.

During the fiftieth anniversary of Robinson’s major league debut there were those baseball writers writing against Robinson’s Hall of Fame credentials in terms of strictly baseball play, one particularly grotesque such observation being, “If Jackie Robinson had been white he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame today, but . . .” Rejoined Allen Barra, in Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century, “Is it possible that anyone without brain damage could make a statement more asinine? If Jackie Robinson had been white, he probably would have been one of the most obvious and popular choice for the Hall of Fame of the 1950s, or, if he had retired later, the 1960s.”

You could argue his Hall of Fame induction was six parts his actual play and half a dozen parts his pioneer position, and you won’t get too ferocious an argument. If you strip the pioneer position from him a moment, you get a bona fide Hall of Fame infielder who was better than eleven second basemen elected to the Hall but fell short of another eight. Being smack dab in the middle of a pack of Hall of Famers is no shame.

(He was another kind of pioneer, by the way: he won the first baseball Rookie of the Year award, a prize awarded to one rookie across the board, in 1947. The leagues began awarding it separately in 1949. In 1987, it was renamed formally as the Jackie Robinson Award.)

But you restore the pioneer position and discover that he was man enough to leave it outside the door when he came home though the temptation to fume over the external indignities and grotesqueries must have been overwhelming.

“My husband underplays things,” Rachel Robinson once said. “That’s his style, Don’t let him fool you. What he came up against, and we all came up against, was very, very rough. He was explosive on the field, and reporters used to ask if he was explosive at home. Of course he wasn’t. No matter what he’d been called, or how sarcastic or bigoted others had been to him, he never took it out on any of us.”

When the Dodgers acquired pitcher Russ Meyer, who’d tangled no end of tough against Robinson, Meyer admitted he was very nervous about joining Robinson. Until Robinson greeted him in the clubhouse for the first time, held out a hand, and smiled while saying, “We’ve been fighting each other. Now let’s fight them together.”

“OK, pal,” Meyer replied. “You just made it easier for me.” In the same remembrance, for Peter Golenbock’s Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Meyer looked back with admiration. “Jackie,” he said, “was a competitor. He played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He played to win.” Meyer could have been talking about life itself as the man himself lived it, shattering barriers but never remaining less than a man.


Tossing out a ceremonial first pitch at the
1972 World Series just prior to his death.
Robinson said he longed for the day a black
man would be a manager; three years later,
the Indians named a Robinson to be the
first---Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

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« Last Edit: February 01, 2019, 02:46:04 PM by EasyAce »

Offline corbe

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2019, 07:05:33 PM »
   Great piece @EasyAce Hell of a man.
No government in the 6,000 years of modern mankind history has led its people into anything but the history books with a simple lesson, don't let this happen to you.

Offline EasyAce

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2019, 07:21:18 PM »
   Great piece @EasyAce Hell of a man.
@corbe
Thank you!

I didn't have a place to say it, but when the Dodgers did trade Robinson to the Giants, the Dodgers at the time still had on their roster pitcher Sal Maglie, who'd been a longtime enemy when he was on the Giants. (The Dodgers bought Maglie from the Indians in June 1956; Maglie, in a crowning irony, helped make the last Brooklyn pennant in 1956 possible.) Sport magazine editor Ed Fitzgerald commissioned a cover portrait that ended up never being used after Robinson did retire---an illustration of Maglie the Dodger pitching to Robinson the Giant. It'd be worth the economy of a tiny island nation to find whether the illustration was actually done and to get my meathooks on it!

Online goatprairie

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2019, 07:35:51 AM »
Little known or publicized facts about Robinson. In college he was an outstanding athlete in four sports.....football, baseball, track and field, and basketball.
He was so good at basketball a number of people thought he should have been the first black to play in the fledgling NBA.  In the off-season he was a member of the Los Angeles Red Devils semi-pro basketball team that sometimes played exhibition games against visiting NBA teams from the east. Robinson might have ended playing pro basketball  and he wanted the NBA to make the RDs an NBA team.
 If that had occurred, Robinson might have been the first athlete to play two pro sports simultaneously....baseball in the warm weather months and basketball in the winter months.
But LA was too far from where most NBA teams played and it was too expensive for teams to fly there.
But at 5'11 Robinson was an excellent ballhandler and regularly dunked in RD games at a time when few players dunked.
It's obvious too that after a great career as a running back at UCLA he could have played pro football.

Offline EasyAce

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2019, 01:09:56 PM »
Little known or publicized facts about Robinson. In college he was an outstanding athlete in four sports.....football, baseball, track and field, and basketball.
He was so good at basketball a number of people thought he should have been the first black to play in the fledgling NBA.  In the off-season he was a member of the Los Angeles Red Devils semi-pro basketball team that sometimes played exhibition games against visiting NBA teams from the east. Robinson might have ended playing pro basketball  and he wanted the NBA to make the RDs an NBA team.
 If that had occurred, Robinson might have been the first athlete to play two pro sports simultaneously....baseball in the warm weather months and basketball in the winter months.
But LA was too far from where most NBA teams played and it was too expensive for teams to fly there.
But at 5'11 Robinson was an excellent ballhandler and regularly dunked in RD games at a time when few players dunked.
It's obvious too that after a great career as a running back at UCLA he could have played pro football.

Some of the others who paved the way for Jackie Robinson aside from Branch Rickey and Pee Wee Reese included:

* Leo Durocher---Kenesaw Mountain Landis forced Durocher to retract a comment he made in the newspapers saying he'd bring a black player aboard no questions asked, while he was managing the Dodgers. But after Landis's death and successor Happy Chandler's public statement that blacks should have the right to play in the majors, Durocher started down a group of southern-raised Dodgers who'd been petitioning against Robinson coming up to the Dodgers: "I don't care if the guy is yellow, black or if he has stripes like a f@cking zebra, I'm the manager of this team and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you can't use the money, I'll see that you're traded." (In those years and for many still to come, managers often had direct say in player trades.) Say what you will about Durocher as a sleazebag (especially his then-high tech sign-stealing scheme to help the Giants come back and force a playoff for the 1951 pennant) but he was on the right side of breaking the colour line.

* Happy Chandler---Named commissioner in 1945, the Kentuckian Chandler spoke to two reporters for the black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. (One of the reporters was the Courier's sportswriting legend Wendell Smith.) He told the paper, which published his remarks, "I'm for the Four Freedoms, and if a black boy can make it at Okinawa and go to Guadalcanal, he can make it in baseball'." Chandler also knew that Dodger president Branch Rickey---who'd been looking to break the colour line for a very long time but knew he'd have to wait out Landis to do it---read papers like the Courier. "When Rickey saw [my quote], he began making plans," Chandler said.

* Kirby Higbe---A tough pitcher and a Carolina boy, Higbe was actually ambivalent about the southern-generated anti-Robinson petition: "You all oughtn't to do it just because he's coloured," Higbe remembered telling the petitioners. He signed the petition anyway, thinking it wouldn't make any difference . . . but it didn't sit right with him, and he ended up sabotaging the petition. One night he got roaring drunk with the Dodgers' traveling secretary Harold Parrott and exposed the petition. Parrott instructed Higbe to see Rickey, where Higbe told Rickey there was likely to be trouble because of the petition. Rickey replied, "I don't think so, Kirby," and Higbe said, "That's good enough for me, Mr. Rickey." Right after that, Rickey and Durocher cracked down on the upstarts.

* Clay Hopper---The manager of the Montreal Royals, where Rickey sent Robinson for 1946 to get him warmed up, was a southerner and very ambivalent about having Robinson on the team. But during a spring exhibition a white police officer in Florida tried ordering Robinson off the field and Hopper refused to obey the order. (The 1946 season was the one in which George Shuba, the on deck hitter, made a point of shaking Robinson's hand as he crossed the plate following his first home run of the season; the photograph of that moment became famous enough that Shuba was only too happy to re-enact the handshake with black children who met him in his later years.) By the end of the season, the Royals won the International League pennant and the Triple-A World Series, Robinson was chased to the airport by adoring fans (It was the first time a mob had chased a Negro to love him instead of to kill him, the Courier reported), and Hopper---after putting an arm around Robinson telling him it was "wonderful having you on the team"---buttonholed Rickey to tell him, "You don't have to worry none about that boy. He's the greatest competitor I ever saw and what's more, he's a gentleman."

Robinson actually changed the minds of a lot of the Dodgers' southern-raised players as the 1947 season went on---even popular Dixie Walker (he'd been nicknamed The People's Cherce in Brooklyn), who'd been the instigator of the petition in the first place. The actual worst Walker was verified to have done was ask to be traded. They never became buddies, but Walker wasn't alone among those southern players who got the message when they watched Robinson endure despite the abuse thrown at him all season long. In 1981, Walker talked to New York Times baseball writer Ira Berkow (a longtime favourite of mine) about Robinson:

Quote
(I)t was no secret that I was worried about my business. I had a hardware and sporting goods store back home . . . God knows how many times [Robinson] was thrown at, how many times he was hit. [Robinson was hit by a pitch nine times in 1947; in 1948 he'd be hit seven times, leading the National League.] We all got thrown at, but some of the pitchers carried it to extremes with Jackie. But he showed backbone. I never saw anyone who could get that forearm up as fast to keep the pitch from hitting his head. The man could take care of himself . . .

I grew up in the South, and in those days you grew up in a different manner than you do today. We thought that blacks didn't have ice water in their veins and so couldn't take the pressure of playing big league baseball. Well, we know now that that's as big a farce as ever was. A person learns, and you begin to change with the times.

I'll say one thing for Robinson, he was as outstanding an athlete as I ever saw. He had the instinct to always do the right thing on the field. He was a stemwinder of a ballplayer. But, you know, we never hit it off real well.

I've gotten along with a lot of blacks since then - I managed 'em in the minor leagues and there's many I came to respect and like - but Jackie was a very antagonistic person in many ways, at least I felt he was. Maybe he had to be to survive. The curses, the threats on his life. I don't know if I could have gone through what he did. I doubt it. But we just didn't gee and haw, like they say down here.

Over the years, though, Robinson and I would meet at Old-Timer's Day games and we sat and chatted some. The other night I watched a television program and heard mention of a number of people who were important in the blacks gaining advantages in America. And the name of Jackie Robinson never came up. It surprised me. I mean, how soon people can forget.

Another southern player whose mind got changed fast was young third-string catcher Bobby Bragan. Bragan, like Walker, only asked to be traded. He'd spoken directly to Rickey about his feelings and about how he'd been raised, and Rickey appreciated Bragan's immediate candor. But then came the rest of spring training and the season and Bragan had a change of heart: "Within thirty days, maximum, people who originally wouldn't would start to sit down with Jackie. It became pretty obvious that we weren't going to win without Jackie."

Bragan later became a minor- and major-league manager who developed a game-wide reputation for being the manager you wanted first if you were a black or minority player beginning to play the professional game in the 1950s and 1960s. He was known for going out of his way to make those players feel comfortable; he was even the minor-league manager who convinced Maury Wills to take up switch hitting, which was the final element in paving Wills's way to the majors. And Bragan credited Robinson for it: "I had a great rapport with the black players because of my experience with Jackie. If I hadn't had that experience, I don't know if I could have done it."

Offline GrouchoTex

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2019, 01:53:03 PM »
Nice tribute, Thanks @EasyAce

Offline EasyAce

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2019, 02:44:49 PM »

Offline EdJames

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Re: God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2019, 04:07:47 PM »
Very nice essay, thanks!


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