This day in baseball: King and Robinson given honorary degrees

On June 7, 1957, Howard University awarded honorary Doctor of Law degrees to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to recently-retired Dodgers infielder Jackie Robinson. In the years that followed, the former baseball great and the Baptist minister frequently appeared together at Civil Rights rallies, fundraising events, and demonstrations.

MLK-Jackie-Robinson


Quote of the day

Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.

~George W. Bush

George W Bush - Forbes - Getty Images

Forbes/Getty Images


Jackie Robinson biography

Happy Jackie Robinson Day! In celebration, here is a video biography of Robinson, posted by Biography this past January.


Quote of the day

Some people would view Jackie Robinson as a very safe African-American, a docile figure who had a tendency to try to get along with everyone, and when you look at his history, you learn that he has this fire that allows him to take this punishment but also figure out savvy ways of giving it back.

~Chadwick Boseman

imdb.com

“Jackie Robinson…an American Hero,” by Stanley Cooper

Chadwick Boseman Jackie Robinson

Chadwick Boseman (left) and Jackie Robinson (Movie Stills)

In honor of Major League Baseball’s celebration of Jackie Robinson yesterday, and in memory of Chadwick Boseman, who passed away yesterday and who had played Robinson in the movie 42, here’s a short piece I found about Robinson and his role in baseball and in society.

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He never asked to be a hero
For him, playing ball would be just fine
Potentially his chance was less than zero
To overcome that black-white racist line

Unlike Duke, Dimag and Mickey
Jackie entered through back doors
The stage was set by Mr. Rickey
For Robinson to fight that Civil War

Sports, they say, mirrors society
So, they should have hung their heads in shame
For what was then America’s propriety
Brought prejudice to every game

The Brooklyn Bums, at long last, found salvation
When Robinson’s talents were revealed
With the awesome double-play combination
Reese and Jackie brought to Ebbetts Field

Stealing fan’s hearts with baseball fire
Displaying skills in every way
Robinson played with such desire
Stealing bases most every day

They could never expect from him the expected
He turned the most racist hate to love
And finally he was most respected
Respect that came from more than bat and glove

For Jackie, baseball was more than just a game
He opened doors for Campy, Mays and others
Number 42, now in the Hall of Fame
Proved men of all colors could play in life as brothers

He never asked to be a hero!


Quote of the day

The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.

~Jackie Robinson

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Jackie Robinson, track star

On this day each of the last two years, I’ve talked about Jackie Robinson’s football career and I’ve explored his basketball career.  This year, for Jackie Robinson Day, we’re going to look at Robinson as a track star.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there regarding Jackie’s track career, likely due to track season and baseball season both falling in the spring.  But we’ll take a look at what we can find.

As many well know, before Jackie Robinson made history by breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, he had been a four-sport star at UCLA, playing baseball, football, basketball, and participating in track and field.  He remains the only four-letter athlete in the school’s history.  But his athletic achievements certainly didn’t begin there.

Inspired by his older brother Matthew (a.k.a. “Mack”), who won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Robinson had been a four-letter athlete even before college.  He attended John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, earning varsity letters in those same four sports he would continue competing in through college.  As part of the track and field team, Robinson competed in the long jump.

After graduating high school, Jackie attended Pasadena Junior College for two years, where he continued to have success in all four sports.  In track and field, Robinson broke school records in the long jump previously held by his older brother Mack.  A brief story in the June 26, 1938 issue of the Los Angeles Times made reference to Robinson’s talents as he headed to Buffalo, New York for the National AAU Track and Field Championships:

Jackie Robinson AAU track

 

Following his two years at Pasadena Junior College, Jackie Robinson went on to enroll at UCLA.  He missed most of the 1940 track season because of his baseball duties, but still went on to win the Pacific Coast Conference and NCAA titles in long jump with leaps of 25’0″ and 24’10”.

Had the 1940 and 1944 Olympics not been canceled due to World War II, some contend that Robinson likely could have competed at the Olympic level.  Unfortunately, while he would go on to play football, basketball, and (of course) baseball at the professional level, the end of Robinson’s time at UCLA also seems to have marked the end of his track and field career.

Jackie Robinson UCLA track

Jackie Robinson Foundation


A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation

Yesterday evening, I watched a documentary that explores desegregation in baseball in the years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation takes a good look at the struggles faced by black and Latino ballplayers, which, as fans of baseball history know, continued in an intense vein for years and years following the 1947 season.  A lot of times, our society has a tendency to stop with Jackie Robinson, and while Robinson’s role in the desegregation of baseball was undoubtedly important, we are doing a disservice to those who followed in his footsteps when we end the story there.

This documentary attempts to rectify this.  It is full of interviews with players from those years discussing the treatment they received and the obstacles they faced, including being rejected service at restaurants, abuse from other players, teammates, and coaches, abuse from fans, and skewed reports in the newspapers.  Many Latino players also faced a linguistic and cultural struggle on top of the racism.  All these players knew that in order for them to make it in baseball, they had to play twice as well as their white counterparts.

The trailer for the documentary is posted below.  You can access the full video here.


This day in baseball: Robinson awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

On March 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Jackie Robinson. Rachel Robinson accepted the award on behalf of her husband.   The Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered the highest civilian honor given in the United States.

You can watch President Reagan’s remarks from that Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the video below.  If you’d like to go straight to his remarks about Robinson, you can find them at the 16:03 timestamp.


Pride and Perseverance

This weekend I watched a short documentary produced by Major League Baseball,  Pride and Perseverance: The Story of the Negro Leagues.  While the time period covered in the documentary spans from Moses Fleetwood Walker playing major league ball in the 1880s on up to the induction of Negro League players into the Baseball Hall of Fame starting in 1971, the documentary focuses primarily on the story of the Negro Leagues.Pride and Perseverance

Dave Winfield narrates the documentary, and it includes footage from Negro League games, as well as some Major League games.  It also features interviews with Negro Leagues players, including Buck O’Neil, Bob Mitchell, Willie Mays, John “Mule” Miles, Cool Papa Bell, and Ted Radcliffe.  The interviews highlight just how good many Negro Leagues players really were, especially compared to white Major Leaguers, and it’s a lot of fun to see how much these guys light up when they talk about the level of talent.

The documentary touches on the racial struggles faced by black players.  For example, many players accepted the fact that they would have to go around to the backs of restaurants to get food, and it was not uncommon to sleep on the bus because the hotels in a given town would not give them rooms.  Nevertheless, the players talk about how much fun they had traveling and playing ball.  The eventual recruitment of Jackie Robinson by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier, of course, receives due attention.

Overall, Pride and Perseverance is a fantastic overview of the history of the Negro Leagues.  For a documentary that runs less than an hour long, it manages to cram a lot of interesting information into the film.  It’s definitely worth checking out.