This article was published in SPORT magazine's October 1948 issue.
Please note: The language used in this piece has not been updated or edited.
By Jack Sher
There are others of his race in the big leagues now, but of Robbie it will always be said that he was the first. He paved the way for the rest, and he did it not only with his speed and power—but with his heart.
East Flatbush, in the fabulous borough of Brooklyn, is like many other suburbs of the great cities of America. Two-family brick houses stretch endlessly; housewives perch on porches in the sun, delivery trucks rattle by, and kids play stickball in the streets, their shouts loud and happy, in your ears.
We came to a stop on such a street on a late summer afternoon, in the year 1948. There were five of us in the car—a ballplayer, his wife, their 17-month-old son on the lap of his great great grandmother, and the reporter. As we got out of the car, a woman sunning herself on the porch of a house across the street called to the ballplayer.
“Hi, Jackie! How'd it go today? How's the knee?”
“'Hello,” the ballplayer waved. “Better, thanks. How are you?”
“Fine, fine,” the woman answered, happy in the sun.
The front door was stuck tight, so we all walked slowly around the corner toward the back entrance. At sight of the ballplayer, the kids on the street halted their stickball game and came running. A skinny, pale, bespectacled boy hopped up and down in front of the ballplayer.
“Whatsa mattah the Dodgers lose today, Jackie? Whatsa mattah?”
The ballplayer grinned. “We'll get 'em tomorrow,” he said.
A tiny kid, with crewcut blonde hair, kept circling the ballplayer like a midget auto racing around a track, firing questions at machine-gun speed. The voices of other youngsters broke in over his. The ballplayer, moving toward the door, answered as many of the questions as he could. The kids were hopped up, their faces alive with excitement and awe.
“They meet us like this every afternoon,” the ballplayer's wife smiled to the reporter.
The great great grandmother and her small grandchild walked hand in hand ahead of the ballplayer. He reached down, picked up his son, and we all climbed the stairs and entered the house.
The ballplayer and the reporter went into the small, tastefully furnished living room. The ballplayer sat by the window, now and then looking down into the street where the kids had resumed their game of stickball.
“That's a wonderful bunch of kids,” the ballplayer said. “What I'm going to do, eventually, is work with kids. Do boys' work. Maybe it will be with white and colored kids, or colored kids alone it won't matter.”
The sun was now low over the roofs of the city. His shadow was long in the room.
Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition . . .
“Well, the first year was petty tough, wasn't it, Jackie?” the reporter said.
The ballplayer smiled, slightly. “Wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness and the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us . . .
“When you started playing ball for the Kansas City Monarchs,” the reporter asked, “did you have any hope then that the barrier would be let down?”
“No,” the ballplayer said, slowly, “I didn't. Not in my lifetime. I was afraid it might take another war before it could happen.”
That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . .
As this is written, it is nearing the close of the 1948 baseball season, the end of the second year of the Great Experiment, testing whether Jackie Robinson, a Negro ballplayer, could compete equally on the major league diamonds of America with players of white skin. These two years that Robinson has played in the big leagues will become, in time, much more than a footnote in baseball history. They mark a major change in the policy of our beloved national game.
Today, there are other Negro ballplayers in big league uniforms. Jackie Robinson is unique in being the first. But he was not alone in this trial. If you were one of the millions who saw him play, that first year, you were also a part of it. You took part in something quite unusual—a test of democracy, not in one of our musty halls of justice, but on the sunlit baseball fields across the nation.
The success of the Robinson experiment did not depend alone on the courage or physical ability of this man in Dodger uniform. Its fate was settled in the minds and hearts of the American baseball fan, the rich in their box seats, the shirtsleeved guys in the bleachers. The best-laid plans of Deacon Rickey could have, at any moment, blown up in his face. In fact, they almost did.
This story of the rise of Robinson is not an interpretive yarn written from the outside looking in. It was gathered from the inside looking out, from the workings of the minds of the high executives who guide the destiny of the Dodgers, from afternoons in the locker room with Brooklyn players and those on other teams, from tagging along on part of a road trip, from firing pointblank questions at everyone from the bat boy to Burt Shotton, from time spent with Jackie Robinson, his wife, and his friends.
The best way to begin is with a story you haven't heard about Jackie. It explains a great deal about the policy behind the handling of Robinson. It was told to me by one of Rickey's front-office executives, who now feels it is safe to reveal the incident, more than a year after it happened.
On a day in December, 1947, a 12-year-old boy named Eddie Hamlin threw some gasoline on a bonfire at a skating rink. He was severely burned from head to foot. By New Year's Day, he was still hovering between life and death. His mother was poor, with not enough money to meet the hospital expenses. The boy's idol was Jackie Robinson, and the hospital forwarded to the Dodger office a request that Jackie visit the kid. It seemed like a simple request. A child was struggling for his life and the visit of a ballplayer might help.
But it wasn't simple. The meeting between Jackie Robinson and the boy, on New Year's Day in a New Jersey hospital, took place in great secrecy. It had to be shielded from the press, and even from the majority of the hospital staff. Robinson talked to the boy and gave him an autographed baseball. A few months later, a picture was sent to Jackie showing Eddie Hamlin leaving the hospital on crutches.
Why all the camouflage? Ballplayers have done such things before. To photographers, covering a famous athlete's visit to a sick kid is as routine as snapping an action shot of a double play. But not in the case of Robinson.
“Publicizing that visit would have been bad,” the executive explained. “It would have been against our carefully worked out policy on Jackie. We were determined that the public's judgment of Robinson would be decided by what he did on the baseball diamond and in no other way.”
This took some doing. Only a few men directly connected with Branch Rickey knew about the infinite precautions, the exhausting, tactful maneuvering it took to steer through that first perilous year. Not Jackie Robinson, whose personal and competitive conduct was superb, knew of all the intricate, exasperating problems that had to be licked. Only now can some of them be brought into the open.
Even before Jackie donned his Dodger suit, gangrene began to appear in the form of poison-pen missives. These were far outnumbered by decent, encouraging letters. The reaction of most would be to ignore the ones containing beefs and threats. But the Dodger brain trust was wise enough not to do this.
“No matter how vile the letter that came to us,” the exec told me, “we answered it. We answered all of them. We stated our position on Robinson in polite but firm language—and thanked them for writing.”
The soft answers turned away plenty of wrath. And there were those who were not so much hostile as afraid. There was the manager of the hotel where the Dodgers always stayed in St. Louis, who wrote congratulating Rickey on finding such excellent prospects for 1947, Robinson included. He added that if he cold help “locate” Robinson when the team came to St. Louis, he would be glad to do so. The Brooklyn management wrote to thank him for the offer—and to inform him they had already taken care of locating Jackie Robinson.
A pulse was constantly taken, all through Spring training, among fans, players, owners, the public at large. No stone was so small that it was not turned over and inspected.
Whatever Branch Rickey felt about prejudice, he was as adamant as he was wise in fighting only for the right of Robinson to exist on an equal basis with his fellow men within the confines of the National League ball parks. All through 1947, whenever Jackie hung up his uniform for the day, he melted into obscurity. He literally got lost.
It was rough going. As soon as Jackie became a Dodger, hundreds of organizations besieged the office on Montague Street, seeking the services of Robinson to help eliminate racial discrimination. They were all treated equally, but the answer was always “no.” There were gripes. Many of the requests were worthy. But if Rickey & Co. had yielded just once, they would have been deluged, with yaks, threats, and accusation of everything from trying to break down the color line in Mississippi to plotting the overthrow of our existing social order.
As one who has taken many a belt at El Brancho for the way he has often put the hug on a dollar, this party has nothing but the highest praise for his splendid generalship in the Robinson campaign. He conducted himself in that battle—and it was more than a light skirmish—with the inner courage that comes only from strong conviction, with decency and with tact and with control. He showed absolute genius in anticipating every stumbling block, sidestepping when caution was valorous, hitting straight into the line when directness would avoid disaster.
Where Jackie Robinson could not speak, Rickey spoke for him. He did it well. He knew the man for whom he was speaking. Not many people do know him. Much more has been written about the cause of Robinson, the Jackie Robinson experiment, than about the man. And it should be mentioned that the first Negro ballplayer to become a major leaguer is not an easy man to get to know.
Ask most sportswriters about Joe Louis and they'll tell you yarns about him by the hour. Ask them about Jackie Robinson and they'll say, “Well, he's a great ballplayer and a gentleman.” It's true. But a guy sitting in the last row in the bleachers can make that same sort of superficial observation.
“No man is an island entire unto himself,” wrote the immortal John Donne. And yet Jackie Robinson is, except to a very few, an island entire unto himself, an introvert, a quiet, often lonely man. All his life he has walked along a path where the danger signals have always been up. Ever since he came of age, he has been put to the test.
“Jackie is a brooder,” a Dodger friend of his said, “a Hamlet type. He worries a lot.”
Like most people who live inside themselves, Robinson doesn't enjoy such comments. To offset this impression, he will dig down and trot out the warmth and humor that is buried deep within him. He has a fine sense of humor, but it is difficult for him to show it before strangers. When you first meet him, you can feel this.
It wasn't until midseason last year that even the most friendly Dodger players were aware of any fun or wit in Jackie's makeup. The exuberant and talkative Carl Furillo was the first to catch it. The outfielder had been hitting .352, then had slipped down behind Jackie and Dixie Walker, who were clouting over .300.
“Say, Jackie,” Furillo said to him one day at batting practice. “I'm gonna catch you. I'm gonna get hot and pass you up.”
“Good,” Robinson said, blank faced, “We need hitters on this ball club.”
“I'm gonna pass up that Walker, too,” Furillo said, excitedly. “Just watch me go!”
“Fine,” Robinson said. “Then we'll have three of us hitting over .300 and we can sure use that.”
“You said it!” Carl said, enthusiastically.
Robinson grinned. “But you're not going to do it standing here talking about it all day, Carl,” he said.
The Dodger who told me this story said that the surprised Furillo stood there openmouthed.
To Jackie, one of the happiest moments in his Dodger career was when the entire ball club was laughing at him. It happened, as he reports in his autobiography, in Chicago. In a game against the Cubs, a sizzling ground ball hit him in the foot and stopped dead. Robinson thought it had gone through him and looked around wildly, up in the air, all over. The runner scampered to second as (Pee Wee) Reese and (Eddie) Stanky screamed at him to look down. Hugh Casey came into the locker room after the game and stood over Robinson.
“Jackie,” the big pitcher said, “we're getting you a new glove when we get to Brooklyn.”
“What am I going to do with a new glove, Hugh?” Jackie asked, puzzled.
“We're going to put it on your foot,” Casey said laughing, “you won't even have to bend over for a ball then.”
As Casey imitated Robinson's bonehead play, the Dodgers rolled around the floor laughing. Jackie was laughing harder than any of them, but for a different reason. That day he knew he belonged to the Bums.
It would not be truthful to say that Jackie Robinson has been accepted freely and wholeheartedly by every Brooklyn player. Traveling with the team, circulating among the players, it is not difficult to sense which of them still have certain private reservations about Robinson, still cling to conditioned prejudices. It isn't in what they say, but in their attitude, the fear and suspicion in their eyes when you question them about Robinson. These, however, are definitely in the minority.
One wellknown Dodger regular, a Southerner, was bravely honest about his feelings toward Jackie. “Sure, I like the guy,” he said. “He's a good ballplayer and a fine fellow. But I don't want my name used if you say that. You see,” he paused, searching for words, “well, lots of my friends down South might get a wrong idea about how I feel. Things I've said about Robinson before have been twisted around. I'm afraid to get mixed up in anything about him.”
This is the crux of it. Those who had prejudices have grown to like him in spite of them. There's a reason. Jackie has never done anything for which he could be disliked.
These few ballplayers shy away from complete acceptance of Robinson, not on a basis of what they feel themselves, but because of a fear of offending old acquaintances, harming lifelong friendships. It is a strange and sad thing. It is their own potential ostracism they fear.
Few of them realize Jackie knows this. But he does. He has made it easier for them by quietly accepting it. Most of the players are completely, unreservedly friendly. Robinson plays cards with them on the train, joins in the bull sessions, gets along in a free and easy manner. In Philadelphia and St. Louis, where he is barred from the hotels in which the other players stay, he stops at the homes of friends. Nothing has been done to attempt to break down the rules of the hotels in these cities. Nothing will be done.
After the great switcheroo, which sent Leo the Large Lung to the Giants and brought Burt Shotton back to the Brooklyns, Jackie was quoted as saying he was happy about the change and would much rather play for Shotton. That quote was a country mile away from the truth.
Earlier in the season, Robinson had said to me, “Durocher is a wonderful manager. He loves to win. He makes us all want to break our backs for him.” Robby's eyes lit up and he got as excited as he ever gets. “The way he sometimes talks to us in the clubhouse before a game is absolutely inspirational.”
The first time Leo brought his Giants over to play the Dodgers, this reporter cornered Jackie on the Brooklyn bench and asked him point blank if he still felt the same way about the Lip.
“Of course I do,” Robinson replied. “I wouldn't change a word of what I said. Leo is a wonderful manager and that statement you read about my being happy to see him go was absolutely untrue. I never said anything like that.”
This doesn't mean, Jackie would like to have it known, that he isn't equally enthusiastic about Burt Shotton. “Shotton is the sort of man you love to play for,” he went on. “What I like about him is the way he gets everything over to you in that quiet, confident voice, without ever hurting your feelings. They are both great managers, but totally different. I think my type of player probably does better under a calmer man, such as Barney Shotton, but that isn't a criticism of Leo Durocher, who was wonderful to me and a fine manager.”
As much as Jackie liked Leo and likes Shotton, no one in the Brooklyn organization is as close to him as coach Clyde Sukeforth and Branch Rickey. The way Robinson feels about the Deacon is akin to hero worship. It isn't based on what the Mahatma has done for Jackie. It stems from an admiration for Rickey's' philosophy and the way he has lived his life. If the Dodger prexy were to ship Robinson to the minors tomorrow, Jackie's opinion of Rickey wouldn't be affected in the slightest.
The first reaction to almost everyone is what you see physically. Jackie Robinson is a sixfoot, dark skinned man, now weighing around 200 pounds. His shoulders are wide, his legs strong and heavy. He walks with his toes turned in, the way fast track men walk, making him appear a little topheavy. As he moves, he does not give the appearance of being a speed merchant, a player who led the league in stolen bases, copping 29 last year.
The face Robinson shows to the public is almost always serious. It is sensitive and intelligent, with a high forehead, wide, somewhat brooding eyes; a face with strong, heavy features, a full mouth and determined chin. His smile is not infrequent, but he is rarely given to moments of hearty laughter. And, at the age of 29, there is still something of a boyish quality about him.
One of the many false impressions circulated about the Dodger secondsacker is that he is an “intellectual type,” an unusually brilliant man. It isn't true. Robinson doesn't mind telling you this. Because he's a college graduate, his knowledge is much broader than that of most ballplayers. Among those who have had a higher education, he would probably fall somewhere in the middle bracket. He is not a scholar, not at all bookish. He is, in every sense of the word, an athlete.
“My mother wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he told me, “but I don't believe I have the sort of mind it would take to become one. At school, I majored in physical education. I never wanted to be anything but an athlete.”
This should not give you the impression that Robinson is unusually modest. He has a pride in what he and his people have been able to do under crushing handicaps. The pride is not grandiose, but it is there and it is intense. The comments about his being overweight and out of shape at the start of the season hurt him a great deal.
At a Philadelphia night game, a newspaperman strolled over and told Robby that he had looked a little slow at second base the day before. He mentioned a ground ball that he thought Jackie should have grabbed. A quick look of anger came into Robinson's eyes, which was then smothered by a smile.
“Maybe,” he said, evenly, “but I'd like to see anyone who could have put a glove on that ball.”
Most ballplayers either would have laughed it off, or tried at great lengths to convince the scribe he was wrong. Robinson seldom does. He keeps bottled up, steers wide of controversy. Perhaps it is wise, perhaps not, but it is most certainly painful.
Jackie has not always been this way. On the gridiron at UCLA, Robinson was a fiercely competitive, often outspoken player. He was not only a flashy, driving halfback; he was also a scrappy one, quick to defend himself and his teammates. He was the sort of player a coach loves, a guy with guts who can dish it out and take it and is never afraid of trouble.
In baseball, when this sort of spirit is displayed by a Cobb, a Durocher, or a Stanky, the man is praised for his color and fight. But if Jackie Robinson had brought his hard-hitting, flamboyant personality on to the diamond, it would have been sheer murder. He had to show his ardor in other ways, by his zip on the bases, the ferocity of the way he slugged at a baseball. It may be the best way, but it deprived the fans of seeing Jackie Robinson as he really is—a slashing, sometimes hotheaded, extremely colorful player.
If Robinson were a phlegmatic, uncaring type, as he sometimes appears to be, the control he has shown would not be nearly so impressive. But Jackie is far from being a namby-pamby. He's a highlytuned, flame-lit athlete, constantly keyed up and intense. After a hardfought game, Jackie is often unusually quiet, almost surly. Actually, he's just simmering down, cooling off, getting rid of some of the emotions he can't unleash on a ball field.
There isn't much use in repeating the indecent remarks and incidents of Jackie Robinson's first year in big-league baseball. They have been told before. Robinson handles them cleanly in his book. The retelling of ugly things seldom helps. But sometimes, even in a hateful happening, something emerges so shining and so good that it must be told. The inside of this story is being told here for the first time.
Early in April, 1947, as everyone now knows, the first of the attacks on Robinson took place when the Phillies visited Brooklyn. The jockeying from the bench was of the crudest, most stupid kind, taking the form of shouted slurs against Robinson because of his color. Inning after inning, Jackie dug down into hidden reserves and held himself together. Late in the game, a Philadelphia player reached first base. He looked a little worried. Then he spoke to Jackie out of the side of his mouth.
“I don't feel good with these guys today,” he said. “Some others don't, either. I just want you to know that I haven't been yellin' anything. Now don't let 'em get you down.”
Those few words went into Jackie more sharply than any of the insults. They were hoarsely muttered, but they were beautiful, strength-giving words.
“Life for me ain't been no crystal stair,” wrote Langston Hughes, the Negro poet. This could also be said of the childhood of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919, the youngest of five children, whose parents were destitute sharecroppers. A year after Jackie's birth, his father was buried in the red clay of Georgia, leaving to Mollie Robinson the heritage of the poor children and a hope for work.
It is still somewhat unbelievable to Jackie that his mother was not only able to feed and clothe her young, but also get together enough money to move her family to Pasadena, California. She did this when Jackie was only 13 months old. That journey West was the only rest Mollie Robinson had while her children were growing up, if you can call that sort of a trek with five children a rest.
Southern California was no lotus land for the Robinsons. “My mother worked hard,” Jackie said, “terribly hard. She did heavy manual labor. She did housework. She did every kind of hard work, driving herself so she could help us get a decent education.”
The kids pitched in, all of them working at odd jobs as soon as they were old enough to run around. Jackie worked after school hours. He carried a shoeshine box, sold hot dogs at sporting events, ran errands, peddled newspapers. He was large for his age and the fastest traveling boy in the neighborhood.
Jackie's hero then was his older brother, Matt, a promising track star who later made the 1936 Olympic team. The fame and prestige that Matt Robinson earned—it took the great Jesse Owens at his best to beat him in the 220—was a large factor in Jackie's desire to become an athlete.
Young Robinson's grammar school days were not particularly happy ones. The depression was in full swing and the family felt it severely. “I remember 1932 very well,” Jackie said. “That was our worst year. There were many times that year when there was barely enough to eat.”
By the time Jackie entered Muir Technical High in Pasadena, the roughest of the lean days were over. The bread lines had vanished. When he was a senior at Muir, the local sportswriters began to talk it up about a “speedy, allaround athlete named Jackie Robinson.”
There was only one way Robinson could afford to go to college and that was by getting odd jobs to help pay his way through. He worked all during the time he attended Pasadena Junior College and UCLA. “I was offered an athletic scholarship and a parttime job from a great many other schools, too,” Robinson explained, “but I chose UCLA because I planned to get a job in Los Angeles after I completed my education. I figured I'd have a better chance of getting one if I went to a local university.”
Robinson's days at the University of California in Los Angeles were among the happiest in his life. There was little, if any, discrimination at the school. Jackie enjoyed the usual attention and accolades that are dropped on topflight college athletes. One year he averaged 12 yards every time he carried a football. He became the leading groundgainer in the United States. In basketball, he was high scorer in the Pacific Coast League. In track, he broke the conference record in the broad jump against the best stars in the Midwest's Big Nine.
The records are fine to look back on. There are many more of them. Yet, nothing Robinson did was as important to his future as his meeting a girl one afternoon on the campus. She was a girl majoring in nursing, an honor student, and her name was Rachel Isum. “I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of girls I went out with before I met Rachel,” Jackie said. “She's been the most important and helpful and encouraging person I've ever known in my life.”
Rachel is an extremely beautiful and intelligent girl. And with wisdom and patience, foresight and courage, she has, almost from the moment she met him, devoted herself completely and unselfishly to bringing out the best there is in Robinson as a man and an athlete.
Before meeting Rachel, there was a good deal of bitterness and hot temper in Jackie Robinson's makeup—and with plenty of reason.
While Jackie was in his first year at UCLA, a car in which he and some of his friends were riding bumped into one driven by a white man. There was an argument. The police arrived and took the Negro boys to jail. No questions asked, they booked them for suspicion of robbery! A coach at UCLA and some other friends finally arrived at the police station and assured the law that Jackie and his friends could not possibly have been guilty of the charge. The police let them go, but not before Jackie agreed to forfeit a $25 bond.
Injustice of this sort is not easily forgotten. Robinson had lived a wholly exemplary life. He had never indulged in drinking, not even smoking. His moral character had been unquestionably above reproach. That incident earned him a reputation as a troublemaker. Things like this were rankling him when he met Rachel Isum.
Rachel and Jackie went together all through college. She was more than just a girl friend. She was his closest companion, his adviser, the firm rock against which he dashed all the problems that beset him. She gave him advice not only when he asked for it, but when he needed it. She has stuck with him through every storm he has ridden out, and she is the most important single human being in the world to him.
Robinson speaks of Spring training for Montreal as the most heartbreaking and crucial period of his life. Here was not only the pressure of breaking into organized baseball for the first time, but being put to the test in Florida, being subjected to every manner of public insult and humiliation. Rachel was by his side through all of it.
“I couldn't have made it without her,” Robinson says, simply.
It would have been disastrous for Robinson if he had not married this girl. It almost happened. She waited for him through the war. He went to Fort Bragg, where he became a cavalry officer. Incidentally, Pete Reiser was playing on the Fort Bragg baseball team. Jackie wanted to go out for it. He was told that colored players were not allowed on white teams.
When Robinson came home from the Army he was not at all sure what he wanted to do. Rachel felt then there was little future for him as an athlete. He was 25 years old. His only opportunity to make any real money was in professional football and, at best, he would be good for only five or six years.
Rachel almost broke their engagement when Jackie told her he was going barnstorming with the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro team. “She had plenty of reason to quit me then,” Jackie smiled. “There isn't much of a future playing with these Negro clubs. The life is rotten. You're always on the go, eating bad food, sleeping in poor hotels, playing at night, and keeping irregular hours. The pay is small and it's really a miserable deal.”
The reason Rachel finally gave in was Jackie's promise that he'd stay with the team only a very short time. She knew he needed the money to help his mother.
So Jackie went with the Monarchs. Clyde Sukeforth, scouting for the Dodgers, and under Rickey's instructions, picked him up in August of 1945 in Comiskey Park on Chicago's South Side. The rest is history.
No matter how you felt, for or against, you were amazed when you read that Jackie had been signed for a tryout with Montreal, the Dodger farm club. But you could not possibly have been as stunned as Jackie Robinson was. Sukeforth had to talk long and convincingly before Robinson would believe that Rickey's offer was serious.
Jackie made it at Montreal. He came very close to a nervous breakdown doing it. “Near the end of the season,” he said, “my nerves were pretty ragged. I guess I hadn't realized I wanted to make good so badly. I sort of went to pieces.”
Rachel got him away for four days. He loafed around, played a little golf, forgot for the time that baseball had become a life-or-death thing to him and to his people.
Jackie came back to Montreal and finished the season on the shoulders of a wildly appreciative throng of baseball fans. Montreal won the “Little World Series” against Louisville and it was Robinson who crossed the plate with the winning run.
And to Sam Maltin, reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier, the reception Jackie Robinson got at the end of the game—the surging jubilant crowds around the Negro ballplayer with the tears streaming down his face—was something the Louisville fans who had gone up North to see the windup, would not soon forget. “They couldn't fail to tell others down South about the riot,” Maltin wrote, “the chasing of a Negro—not because of hate but because of love.”
The Great Experiment was half won.
One of the most annoying things to Jackie Robinson, which he can't quite understand, is the way some fans and sportswriters compare him with other Negro ballplayers who are now being given a chance in organized baseball. “If they only knew how much I was pulling for these guys to make good!” he said, shaking his head slowly.
Off the field, the Robinsons live a quiet life. They have been to two night clubs in the two years Jackie has been with the Dodgers. Rachel struggles fiercely to get Jackie to take her dancing occasionally, but he does enjoy plays and movies. His greatest passion is golf, and he jokes about his wife hiding his clubs to keep him off the course. He shoots in the low 80's, which he doesn't seem to think is very newsworthy.
The enthusiasm with which some of his race regard Robinson's feats on the ball field are often painful and embarrassing to Jackie. A base hit by Robinson, or even a very ordinary piece of action, will sometimes bring on an overenthusiastic reaction from sections of the Negro fans. Jackie wishes that it wouldn't.
But he understands, as everyone should, how closely many of his people identify big good fortune with their own. It is as though what he is doing, they are doing themselves.
And there have been very few “incidents,” if any, between white and colored people in the stands.
The fans in Flatbush have always been strong for Robinson. It will take a lot to shake their feeling. He proved to them last year that he was something more than a great, individual star. He proved that he was a team player, that the Dodgers' record as a club was what really mattered to him.
When Jackie reported for Spring training this year, overweight and sluggish, the disappointment of players, fans, and friends was to be expected. Explanations for Robinson's condition were in order. But they did not come from Jackie. They came from an objective, impersonal roan in the Dodger front office.
“When Jackie left us after the Series,” he said, “he was, for the first time, free to take any and all offers to make some money. He spent a lot of time traveling around the country making personal appearances. Sitting in dressing rooms between shows, not being able to get out and keep in shape, made it hard for him to get back in condition. I don't blame him a bit for accepting the engagements. He, as well as any other athlete, has the right to cash in on his success while the picking is good.”
There was nothing “out of shape” about Jackie once the season was well started. Late in July, when the Dodgers caught fire and traveled from seventh to second place, it was the big bat of Jackie Robinson, booming out hits day after day, driving in runs and spark-plugging the team, that started the boys on the glory road. The majority of fans along the Gowanus Canal will tell you that as Robinson goes, so go the Dodgers.
As far as Jackie himself is concerned, he thinks he's approaching his prime as a ballplayer. But he doesn't think he'll quite reach the peak next year.
What Jackie has done already will last as long as the players of his race send ringing hits into the stands and flash on speedy legs along the basepaths.
For he was the first.
The Great Experiment is over. Jackie made it succeed. Now he can go on with more freedom of action every year, to carve his name alongside the great players who were measured on merit alone, on the percentage of chances fielded cleanly, hits made, home runs, bases stolen.
Jackie Robinson is, of course, a credit to his race. That's the thing you always say, isn't it? But let it also be said that those of white skin who, with hope and action, supported the cause of giving a Negro ballplayer a fair chance to prove himself, are also a credit to their race.