Jackie Robinson played hard, died young
I had a love for baseball at a very young age and I followed it diligently while I was growing up in Schenectady, N.Y. But for some unknown reason, I didn’t care for any of the three major league teams closest to where I lived—the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I guess if I had to pick a favorite of the three, it would be the Giants. But I really followed the Philadelphia Phillies, because of their minor league affiliate, the Schenectady Blue Jays. Many of the Blue Jays eventually became Phillies, so Philadelphia was my team of choice.
However, my mother was a Boston Red Sox fan and I really liked the Bosox mainly because they had perhaps the greatest hitter of all time, Ted Williams.
I was too young to understand the plight of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier by becoming the first African-American to play in the major leagues. And he was on the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team I didn’t care much about. But I did know and realize, Robinson was a great baseball player once he got the chance to play.
I’m so glad the movie “42” premiered earlier this month because wife Susan and I went to see it last weekend and I learned what a tremendous feat it was for him to be given an opportunity to play major league baseball by then Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey.
Rickey was determined to break baseball’s “color line” but he was very careful who he chose. He scouted several of the teams playing in the old Negro League and honed in on the Kansas City Monarchs, who had several outstanding players.
Satchel Paige was probably the most prominent player in the Negro League, but he was too old at the time. Don Newcombe, who later became a Brooklyn Dodger, was another choice, but he was only 19 years old and was a high school dropout.
Rickey settled on Robinson because he played college baseball at UCLA and was educated. He also knew how to handle the pressure that would come with the task of breaking baseball’s “color barrier” because he was a second lieutenant in the military and had already experienced how he was treated due to the color of his skin.
Robinson met a man in the military during World War II who was the heavyweight champion of the world. Joe Louis instructed him while they were together about a lot of things he was going to run into, because Joe ran into them while he was boxing.
Jackie learned well and appreciated what Joe Louis did for him. He never forgot that and passed it on to the two other black players Rickey eventually signed to Dodger contracts, catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe and all the others that followed.
But Robinson’s road to becoming a star player for the Brooklyn Dodgers was certainly a bumpy one. Rickey initially signed Jackie to a contract in 1946 to play at the Dodgers’ Triple AAA affiliate, the Montreal Royals, and married his sweetheart Rachael Isum before spring training began.
Jackie played well enough at Montreal for Rickey to offer him to a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. However, his Dodger teammates signed a petition stating that they would not play with a black teammate, but manager Leo Durocher quickly nipped it in the bud after Rickey ordered him to do so.
The “offended” players were given a chance to quit if they couldn’t accept a black player on the team, but nobody did.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born Jan. 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, the last of five children born to Mallie and Jerry Robinson. Jackie’s father, Jerry, deserted the family when Jackie was only six months old.
Jackie’s mother, who was a daughter to a slave and knew the difficulties blacks faced in the Deep South, moved the family to Pasadena, Calif.
Jackie attended John Muir Technical High School where he was a four-sport athlete and excelled in every one.
He continued his athletic excellence at Pasadena Junior College and on May 8, 1938, Jackie set the junior college broad jump record at a track meet in the morning then led his baseball team to victory at the Southern California Junior College championship game.
UCLA signed him to an athletic scholarship where Jackie re-wrote the record books the next two years, including becoming the first four-sport letterman in the school’s history.
In basketball Jackie led the conference twice in scoring, in football he was an All-American running back, averaging nearly 12 yards per carry and in track he won the national long jump championship. Baseball was his weakest sport, being a great field-no hit collegiate player.
Jackie Robinson started the 1947 season at first base wearing uniform No. 42, because second base belonged to long-time veteran Eddie Stankey and Pee Wee Reese was the shortstop.
Jackie led the league in many offensive categories including stolen bases and unfortunately being hit by a pitch—some intentional on orders of a bigoted manager and some because he really crowded home plate when he batted. The Dodgers won the National League pennant but lost in the World Series to the New York Yankees.
He continued to get better each season and played in six World Series, but was on the winning team only once. Jackie also was voted to six All-Star teams, with his best season being in 1949 when he won the batting title with a .342 average and was named the National League’s MVP.
Jackie Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 after the Dodgers traded him to the New York Giants. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on Jan. 23, 1962 and died tragically of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972 at the young age of 53.
KWICKIES…The National Basketball Association playoffs began last weekend and every home team that was favored in the first round won their opening game. The Western Conference has two Texas teams in the playoffs, the No. 2-seeded San Antonio Spurs, who overpowered the Los Angeles Lakers 91-79 while the No. 8-seeded Houston Rockets were thrashed by top-seeded Oklahoma City 120-91.
It’s really amazing that Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Clay Buchholz of Lumberton has almost as many mound victories this April (four) than our entire Houston Astros team has wins (five) through Monday’s action.
We had a strange occurrence in our Sunday afternoon skins game at Sunset Grove Country Club. I made a birdie on the Par 5 No. 15 hole and didn’t win a skin. In fact I lost one because Ken Ruane hit an eight-iron from 120 yards into the cup for an Eagle-3. He said it was the first Eagle he has ever gotten during competition, to the amazement of our other threesome member George Nevarez.
The Lamar baseball team hammered Northwestern State 18-4 Sunday in Natchitoches to sweep the three-game series and outscore the Demons 37-7. The win upped the Cardinals’ Southland Conference record to 9-6 and their season mark to 30-11, becoming the first Redbird team to win 30 games since 2010 and the fastest to the total since 2004. Lamar returns to action next weekend when they host Stephen F. Austin in a three-game series beginning Friday at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont.
New Beaumont Central High School head football coach and former West Orange-Stark player and offensive coordinator Toby Foreman is getting his Jaguars ready for spring football practice that begins May 1. He has hired three coaches so far including former West Orange-Stark players Andre Bevil, who will coach the quarterbacks, and Roy Locks, who has been hired as the Jags’ defensive coordinator. Former Livingston coach Steve Moore also has been hired as a defensive assistant. Foreman hopes to have all 17 coaching positions filled before next season.
JUST BETWEEN US…On Sunday the University Interscholastic League’s Medical Advisory Committee unanimously recommended to the UIL legislative council a resolution to limit in-season, full contact practice for Texas high school football. Each athlete would be limited to 90 minutes per week of game-speed tackling and blocking to the ground during the regular season and playoffs. If the legislative council approves the recommendation, it then must get the approval of the commissioner of education. UIL athletic director Mark Cousins said the committee studied higher levels of football and found out the NFL limited contact practices in its latest collective bargaining agreement and the Ivy League also limited them.