This article was published in the October 1955 issue of SPORT magazine.
Here is what has happened to the man, and to the game, in the decade since he broke the color line in organized baseball. From the early days of self-control to today’s battles and boos, Jack had to be – and was – a fighter. This is what he has won.
By Roger Kahn
When the Brooklyn Dodgers are at home, Jackie Robinson may visit the United Nations on a Monday afternoon and discuss sociology with a delegate. "There is still a little prejudice in baseball," he will remark, "but we have reached the point where any Negro with major-league ability can play in the major leagues." That Monday night, Robinson may travel to Ebbets Field and discuss beanballs with an opposing pitcher. "Listen, you gutless obscenity," he is apt to suggest, "throw that obscene baseball at my head again and I'm gonna cut your obscene legs in half." If Jackie Robinson is an enigma, the reason may be here. He, can converse with Eleanor Roosevelt and curse at Sal Maglie with equal intensity and skill.
As Robinson approaches the end of his tenth and possibly final season in organized baseball, he is known in many ways by many people.
Because in the beginning, Robinson endured outrage and vituperation with an almost magic mixture of humility and pride, there are those who know him as a saint.
Because today, Robinson fights mudslinging with mudslinging, and sometimes even slings mud first, there are those who know him as a troublemaker.
Because Robinson destroyed baseball's shameful racial barrier, there are those who know him as a hero.
Because in the ten seasons Robinson has turned not one shade lighter in color, there are those who know him as a villain.
Although Jackie Robinson is, perhaps, no longer baseball's most exciting player, he is still its most controversial one. The world of baseball is essentially simple. The men in the light uniforms—the home team—are the good guys: They may beat little old ladies for sport, they may turn down requests to visit children in hospitals, but on the field, just so long as their uniforms are white, they are the good guys. The fellows in the dark uniforms are bad. They may defend the little old ladies and spend half their time with the sick, but as soon as they put on gray traveling uniforms, they become the bad guys.
The one modern player who does not fit the traditional pattern is Robinson. He has been booed while wearing his white uniform at Ebbets Field. He has been cheered as a visiting player in Crosley Field, Cincinnati, or Busch Stadium, St. Louis. Robinson is not "of the Dodgers," in the sense that the description fits Pee Wee Reese or Duke Snider. First, Jackie is the Negro who opened the major leagues to his race. Second—but only second—he has been one of the Dodgers' most spectacularly effective stars.
As a ballplayer, Robinson has created one overwhelming impression. "He comes to win," Leo Durocher sums it up. "He beats you."
It is not as a Dodger star but rather as a man that Jackie arouses controversy. Ask 100 people about Robinson as an individual, and you are likely to get 100 different impressions.
"They told me when I went to Brooklyn that Robinson would be tough to handle," said Chuck Dressen, who managed the Dodgers from 1951 through 1953. "I don't know. There never was an easier guy for me to manage and there never was nothing I asked that he didn't do. Hitandrun. Bunt. Anything. He was the greatest player I ever managed."
Walter O'Malley, who replaced Branch Rickey as Dodger president in 1951 but did not replace Rickey as Robinson's personal hero, has a different view. "Robinson," he insisted in an offguard moment last May, "is always conscious of publicity and is always seeking publicity. Maybe it's a speech he's about to make, or a sale at his store, but when Robinson gets his name in the headlines, you can be sure there's a reason. Why, that business with Walter Alston in spring training, it was ridiculous. It was just another case of Robinson's publicity seeking."
"I'll say this for Jack," Duke Snider declared. "When he believes something is right, he'll fight for it hard as anybody I ever saw.”
"I'm just about fed up with Robinson fights and Robinson incidents and Robinson explanations," admitted a widely syndicated columnist. "He's boring. I'm going to heave a great big sigh of relief when he gets out of baseball. Then I won't have to bother with him any more."
"When I first came up, I was pretty scared by the big leagues," Carl Erskine recalled. "I remember how friendly Jackie was. I was just a kid. It's something you appreciate a whole lot."
"He's the loudest man around," an umpire said. "No, maybe Durocher is just as bad. But Robinson's gotta second guess every call and keep his big mouth going all the time.”
"I've got to admire him," Ralph Kiner said. "He had a tough time when he was younger and he was a pretty rough character. That's no secret out on the Coast. But he's gotten over that now. You have to hand it to Robinson. He has come a long way and he's taken a hell of a lot but he's never stopped coming."
On the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie holds a peculiar position. In point of years he is an elder statesman, and in point of spirit he is a club leader. Yet he has no truly close friends among either white or Negro Dodgers.
Jackie is an inveterate card player and when the Dodgers travel, this passion seems to bring him near players with whom he cannot have much else in common. Frequently he plays with Billy Loes, a pitcher who walked out of the blackboard jungle and into the major leagues. Loes is interested in girls and, to a lesser degree, in baseball; he is interested in little else. Jackie's conversations with him occasionally run two sentences long.
"Boy, am I havin' lousy luck,” Loes may offer.
"Your deal, Billy," is a typical Robinson reply.
Jackie rooms with Jim Gilliam, the young secondbaseman who usually has less to say than any other Dodger. Even when he might have roomed with Joe Black who, like himself, is a fluent and fairly sophisticated college man, he roomed with Gilliam. Robinson and Gilliam, in a sense, are business associates rather than friends, but Gilliam, during a recent burst of conversation, was able to cast a great deal of light on Robinson's relationship with other Negroes both in and out of baseball. "Some of my friends, when, they hear I room with Jack, they say ‘Boy, you room with him? Ain't he stuck up?’” Gilliam reported. "I tell them the truth. He's been wonderful to me. He told me about the pitchers and stuff like that, and how much I should tip and where I should eat and all that. He ain't been stuck up at all."
Inside the Brooklyn clubhouse, Robinson's position is more of what one would expect. He is a dominant figure. His locker is next to that of Gil Hodges. Next to Hodges' locker is a space occupied by a small gas heater, and on the other side of that sits Pee Wee Reese. As captain, Reese is assigned the only locker in the entire clubhouse that has a door.
Duke Snider is nearby and Reese's locker is one of the gathering points in the clubhouse. (The television set is another and that isn't far from Robinson's locker, either.) During clubhouse conversations, Jackie, like Reese and Erskine, is a club leader.
In many ways Jackie, after ten years, is the natural captain of the Dodgers. He is the team's most aggressive ballplayer and it has been suggested that had Robinson been white he would be captain now. Reese is the most respected of all Brooklyn players, but he doesn't have Robinson's fire.
To this day, a few Dodgers make occasional remarks about color. "Don't you think they're gonna take over baseball in ten years?" a player challenged a newspaperman earlier this year after a long and obviously fruitless conversation. "They can run faster; they'll run us white guys right out of the game." The player spoke sincerely. He has been happy to have Robinson on his side, but he is afraid that Robinson represents a threat. This ambivalent feeling is, not uncommon on the Dodgers.
"The players were the easiest part of all," Jackie himself insisted once when reviewing his struggle. "The press and fans made things a whole lot tougher." Robinson tends to say what he wishes were true and offer his wish as truth. The resentment of players obviously was among the most difficult obstacles he had to surmount. Robinson's introduction into the major leagues prompted Dixie Walker to ask that he be traded, and brought the St. Louis Cardinals to the verge of a player strike. A great deal of player resentment still remains, and in some cases Jackie's success has made it even stronger. Naturally, players who resent Robinson do not tell him so. Public proclamations of bigotry have virtually ended in baseball. Yet Jackie's subconscious awareness of resentment, plus the fact that resentment remains, are significant parts of any evaluation of his place on the Dodgers today. There has been integration. It has not been complete.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson today is grayer, fatter, richer, and far more assured than he was ten years ago. He has built a handsome home set among three acres of rolling Connecticut woodland, but he has developed a nervous stomach. He has acquired considerable presence before a microphone; he is a good speaker.
We talked most recently one morning on a bumpy bus that carried the Dodgers from the Chase Hotel in St. Louis to the city's airport. Robinson is permitted to stay at the Chase and has been for the last two years. It is interesting to note that when the hotel management first suggested to the club that it was time the Negro players checked in at the Chase along with the rest of the Dodgers, certain qualifications were laid down. "They'll have to eat in their rooms," the hotel official said, "and they'll have to agree not to hang around the lobbies and the other public rooms." Told about the offer, Roy Campanella said he would pass it up. Roy wasn't going to stay anywhere he wasn't wanted. Don Newcombe, Jim Gilliam and Joe Black agreed. But Jackie Robinson said he guessed the terms were all right with him, he would stay at the Chase. It was a wedge, anyway. So he did, and within an amazingly short time the hotel lifted all the bars and quietly passed the word that Jackie should consider himself just another guest and go where he pleased in the hotel and eat where everybody else ate. So now, because Jackie, eight years after he hit the big leagues, long after the "pioneering" days were supposed to be ended, was still willing to humble himself in order to advance the larger cause, all Negro ballplayers are welcome at the Chase—and another barrier has come down. Wherever Jackie goes, he encounters reminders of barriers that no longer exist because of himself.
"We feel," he began, "that . . .”
"Who is we?"
"Rachel and me," Robinson explained. Rachel, his wife, has played a tremendous role in the ten years of Jackie Robinson.
"Anyway," he said, "we feel that those barriers haven't been knocked down because of just us. We've had help. It isn't even right to say I broke a color line. Mr. Rickey did. I played ball. Mr. Rickey made it possible for me to play."
Of all the men Robinson has met in baseball, he considers Rickey "the finest, in a class by himself." Before the 1952 World Series, Jackie made a point of specifying that he wanted to win the Series for two people: "Rae and Mr. Rickey." Rickey was then general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and O'Malley had succeeded him as Dodger president. "But I wanted to let Mr. Rickey know where he stood in my book," Jackie explained.
"Aside from Mr. Rickey I haven't made any what you call real close friends in baseball," Jackie said. "I mean, I got a lot of respect for fellows. Pee Wee Reese."
I was taking notes on a bouncy bus. "Shall I write Durocher's name here, too?" I asked.
"No," Robinson said. "Don't write down Durocher. But I mean fellows like Gil Hodges. One of my biggest kicks was when I heard Ben Wade talking about me being a team man. It indicated to me a lot of guys have that feeling. I felt pretty happy about it."
"Are you pretty happy about most things?"
Robinson was carrying two large packages on his lap, juggling them as the bus swayed. "I don't think I can be any more contented than I am now," he said. "I've been awfully lucky. I think we've been blessed." He nodded toward the packages. These are for Rae. Presents. We're very close. Probably it's because of the importance of what I've had to do. We've just gotten closer and closer. A problem comes up for me, I ask Rae. A problem for her, she asks me."
"What does she say about all the fights you get into?"
Jackie grinned. This had come up before. "Whenever I get in a real bad argument, I don't care about O'Malley or anything like that. I'm kinda worried about coming home. What's Rae gonna say? My real judge of anything is my family relations. That's the most important. The house, you know, it wasn't so important to me. Rae, it's something she always wanted for the kids. It's no real mansion. I mean there's only four bedrooms."
"Do you think you get involved in too many incidents?"
"If I stayed in a shell," Robinson said, "personally I could be maybe 50 per cent better off in the minds of the little people. You know, the people that feel I should mind my place. But people that I know who aren't little, you know, people who are big in their minds, I've lost nothing by being aggressive. I mean that's the way I am, and am I supposed to try to act different because I'm Negro? I've lost nothing being myself. Here in St. Louis, you know how much progress in human relations we've made? Aggressiveness hasn't hurt."
"Suppose, Jack, you were to start in again. Would you be less aggressive? Would you act differently?"
Around Robinson on the bus, his teammates chattered among themselves. None bothered to eavesdrop. "I'll tell you one thing that would be different," Jackie said. "I sort of had a chip in the beginning I was looking for things. Maybe in the early years I kept to myself more than I should have because of that chip. I think maybe I'd be more—what's the word?—outgoing. Yeah. I know that. I'd try and make friends quicker."
Jackie looked at his shoes, then glanced out the bus window. It was a factory neighborhood. The airport was still 20 minutes away. "I wouldn't be different about aggressiveness if I was doing it over again," he said. "I guess I'm an aggressive guy." Robinson stopped as if he were waiting for a refutation. "Funny thing," he said when none was offered, "about this whole business. A lot of times you meet white fellows from the South who never had a chance to mix. You find them more friendly than a lot of northerners. It's the northerners sometimes who make the fuss about aggressiveness."
Over the years, Jackie has been asked about retirement frequently. In 1952 he said difficulty with umpires was making him think of quitting. Since then he has repeatedly mentioned the thought of retirement from baseball, but only recently has he secured a highpaying job which is to start when his playing career ends. Robinson says he is now financially independent of baseball. He is playing only because he feels he owes the game a debt which he must repay by remaining in it as long as he can play well.
"I don't know about next year," he said. "It depends on the ball club; how much I can help the ball club. I'll be able to tell easy how much I can help, soon as I see the contract they offer me."
The bus pulled on to a concrete highway and, quite suddenly, the bouncing stopped. The sun had risen higher and heat was beginning to settle on St. Louis. It was going to be good to escape. There was only one other question I wanted to ask Jackie. His answer was not really satisfactory.
"The toughest stretch since I came into baseball?" he said. "I guess it was that Williams thing. I ran into Davey Williams at first base and there I was right in the middle of a big obscene mess again and I figured when I get home Rachel's gonna be sore and what the hell am I doing this for? I don't need it. I don't need the money. What for?" Jackie sometimes gets excited when he recalls something that is important to him and he seemed about to get angry all over again. Sal Maglie had thrown at a few Brooklyn hitters one game in May, and Robinson bunted to get Maglie within spiking distance. Maglie stayed at the mound and, instead, Davey Williams covered first after Whitey Lockman fielded the bunt. Jackie was out easily but he bowled over Williams as he crossed the base. Thereafter Maglie threw no more beanballs, and the Dodgers won the game, but Robinson, praised by some and damned by others, was a storm center again. As he thought of it, his anger rose.
"Wasn't it tougher in the early years?" I asked quickly.
“No," Jackie said. "In the early years I never thought of quitting. There was too much to fight for. With that Williams thing, I was fighting for nothing except to win. That was the toughest stretch I ever had to go through. I mean it."
If Robinson's evaluation of the Williams affair was valid, then he is the recipient of a lot of misplaced credit. Actually, his evaluation was wrong. The hardest thing Robinson ever had to do in baseball was the first thing he had to do—just be the first Negro in modern history to play organized ball. Almost willingly, he seems to have forgotten a great deal of his difficult past. Rarely now is there talk in baseball of the enormously courageous thing which Jackie accomplished.
On a train between Milwaukee and Chicago, Rube Walker, a reserve Dodger catcher from Lenoir, N. C., was talking about beanballs. "I don't like 'em nohow," he said.
"But what we see isn't so bad," said Dixie Howell, the Dodgers' No. 3 catcher, who lives in Louisville. "I was at Montreal when Robinson first broke in. Man, you never saw nothin' like that. Every time he come up, he'd go down. Man, did they throw at him."
"Worst you ever saw?" asked Walker.
"By a long shot," Howell said.
Ballplayers are not demonstrative and Walker did not react further. This was in a dining car and his next words were merely "pass the salt, please." But he and Howell felt a matteroffact professional admiration for one of Jackie Robinson's many talents—his ability to get up from a knockdown pitch unfrightened.
To make a major point of a North Carolinian and a Kentuckian sharing admiration for a Negro would be wrong. After Jackie Robinson's ten years, Walker and Howell are not unique. The point is that after the ten years, Howell still regards the beanballs directed at Robinson by International League pitchers during the 1946 season as the most vicious he has ever seen. Jackie himself never mentions this. He cannot have forgotten it, nor is it likely that he has thrust the memory into his subconscious. But he would like to forget it.
It is no small part of the ten years of Jackie Robinson that nobody any longer bothers to count the number of Negro players who appear on the field in a bigleague game. There once was much discussion of what John Lardner called "the 50percent color line." Branch Rickey described it as "the saturation point." When a major-league club first attempted to field a team of five Negroes and four white players, it was whispered, there would be trouble. There seemed to be an enormous risk in attempting to topple white numerical supremacy on a majorleague diamond. Today the Dodgers can start Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Sandy Amoros, Jim Gilliam and Robinson without so much as a passing comment.
In October, 1945, William O'Dwyer was mayor of New York City, and Harry Truman was a rookie president. Dwight D. Eisenhower was wondering what new field he should try, because World War II had been over for two months. On the 23rd day of the month, Branch Rickey announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers had signed a 26-yearold Negro named Jackie Robinson and had assigned him to play for their Montreal farm team.
On the 24th day of October, the late William G. Bramham, commissioner of minorleague baseball, had a statement to make. "Father Divine will have to look to his laurels," Bramham told a reporter, "for we can expect Rickey Temple to be in the course of construction in Harlem soon." Exercising iron selfcontrol, Bramham called Rickey no name worse than a carpetbagger. "Nothing to the contrary appearing in the rules that I know of," Bramham said with open anger, "Robinson's contract must be promulgated just as any other."
The day he announced the signing, Rickey arranged for Jackie to meet the press: "Just be yourself," he told him. "Simply say that you are going to do the best you can and let it go at that." Since more than 25 newspapermen flocked to the press conference, Robinson could not let it go at that.
"He answered a dozen questions," wrote Al Parsley in the Montreal Herald, "with easy confidence but no cocksureness. His was no easy chore . . . he was a lone black man entering a room where the gathering, if not frankly hostile, was at least belligerently indifferent." Robinson handled his chore splendidly; press reaction was generally favorable, although frank hostility was evident throughout much of baseball and in some newspaper columns.
Alvin Garner, the president of the Texas League, announced: "I'm positive you'll never see any Negro players on any teams in the South as long as the Jim Crow laws are in force."
Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball refused to comment.
Clark Griffith, president of the Washington Senators, who had long ignored clamor urging him to hire a Negro, suddenly accused Rickey of attempting to become "dictator of Negroes in baseball!"
Jimmy Powers, sports editor of the New York Daily News, a tabloid with the largest circulation of any newspaper in America, predicted: "Robinson will not make the grade in the big league this year, or next . . . Robinson is a 1,0001 shot."
Red Smith, writing in the now dead Philadelphia Record, summarized: "It has become apparent that not everybody who prattles of tolerance and racial equality has precisely the same understanding of the terms."
There was precious little prattling about tolerance in Florida that winter. In late February, Robinson flew from his California home to Daytona Beach, where the Montreal Royals were to train after a week of early drills at Sanford, a smaller town 20 miles distant. Jackie was cheerfully received by newspapermen, Dodger officials and Clay Hopper, the Mississippiborn manager of the Royals, but he was received in the established southern tradition by the white citizens of Sanford. After two days of practice at Sanford, Robinson was forced to return to Daytona Beach. Before running him out of town, Sanford civic groups explained: "We don't want no Nigras mixing with no whites here."
At Daytona Beach, Jackie lived with a Negro family and encountered only isolated resistance. When the Royals traveled to Deland for an exhibition game with Indianapolis some weeks later, he was given another taste of democracy as it was practiced in Florida during midMarch of 1946. As Robinson slid across home plate in the first inning of the game, a local policeman bolted onto the field.
"Get off the field right now," he ordered Robinson, "or I'm putting you in jail!"
Robinson claims that his first reaction was to laugh, so ludicrous did the situation seem. But he did not laugh. Then, as always in the South, Robinson had attracted a huge crowd, and as he faced the policeman, the crowd rose to its feet. The Indianapolis players, in the field, stood stark still, watching. Then Jackie turned and walked toward the dugout, and Clay Hopper emerged from it.
"What's wrong?" Hopper asked.
"We ain't havin' Nigras mix with white boys in this town," the policeman said. "You can't change our way of livin'. Nigras and white, they can't sit together and they can't play together and you know damn well they can't get married together."
Hopper did not answer.
"Tell that Nigra I said to git," the policeman said. And Jackie left.
Spring training ended on April 14 and when it did, the burden of living in the South was lifted from Jackie's shoulders. He had made the team, and when the 1946 International League season began, his job was pretty much limited to the field. Jackie had played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs when Clyde Sukeforth scouted him for Rickey in 1945, and he had tried out for the Royals as a shortstop. But the Royals owned a capable shortstop named Stan Breard and that, coupled with spine questions about the strength of Robinson's arm, prompted a switch. As the 1946 season opened, Jackie Robinson was a secondbaseman.
This was the season of the beanballs Dixie Howell remembers. It was the season in which a Syracuse player held up a black cat and shouted: "Hey, Robinson! Here's one of your relatives!" It was the season in which Baltimore players greeted Jackie with vile names and profanity.
But it was also the season in which beanballs so affected Robinson that he batted .349. And rather than answer the Syracuse player with words, Robinson replied with a double that enabled him to score the winning run. Rather than match names with the Baltimore players, he stole home one night and drew an ovation from the Baltimore fans. Probably 1946 was baseball's finest year, for in 1946 it was proved that democracy can work in baseball when it is given a chance.
At times during the 1946 season, Branch Rickey would travel from Brooklyn to Montreal for talks with Robinson. "Always," Rickey once said, "for as long as you are in baseball, you must conduct yourself as you are doing now. Always you will be on trial. That is the cross you must bear."
"I remember the meeting when Rickey said that," a man in the Dodger organization said. "Jackie agreed, too." The man chuckled. "I guess Jack's sort of changed his mind over the years." But it wasn't until the place of Negroes in baseball was assured that Robinson's conduct changed.
Late in the 1946 season, the Dodgers found themselves involved in a close race with the St. Louis Cardinals, and there was pressure applied to Rickey to promote Robinson in August and September. For a while Rickey held his peace, but finally he announced: "Robinson is the property of Montreal and that is where he will stay. Montreal is going to be involved in a playoff and we owe it to our Montreal fans to keep Robinson there." Montreal, with Robinson, won the Little World Series. The Dodgers, without him, lost a pennant playoff to the Cardinals in two consecutive games.
There was little connection between the reason Rickey gave for not promoting Robinson and the reasons that actually existed. As far as he could, Rickey wanted to make Robinson's task easy. To do that he needed time. All through the winter of 194647, Rickey met with leaders of the American Negro community. Just as Robinson would be on trial as a major-leaguer, he explained, so would Negroes be as majorleague fans. Working directly with Negro groups and indirectly through Negro leaders, Rickey worked to make sure there would be as little friction in the grandstand as possible. While barring Negroes from play, owners had not refused to allow them to buy tickets, of course, and the idea of Negroes, in bigleague stadiums was nothing new. Yet, with Robinson on the Dodgers, a whole new set of circumstances applied to the old idea Rickey's caution was rewarded in 1947 and m Robinson's first majorleague season there was not one grandstand incident worthy of note.
In another foresighted move, Rickey shifted the Dodger and Montreal training camps to Havana, where the air was free of the fierce racial tensions that throbbed in America's South. Finally, Rickey did not place Robinson on the Dodger roster before spring training started. He wanted the Dodgers first to see Jackie and to recognize what a fine ballplayer he was. Then, Rickey hoped, there would be a sort of mass demand from Dodger players: "Promote Robinson." This just was not to be. Leo Durocher, who was then managing the Dodgers, is a man totally devoid of racial prejudice, but some of Durocher's athletes thought differently.
Dixie Walker wanted to be traded and wanted other Dodgers to join with him in protest against Robinson. Eddie Stanley wasn't sure. Happily, Walker found few recruits, and his evil influence was countered by that of Pee Wee Reese, a Kentucky gentleman. "The first time I heard Robinson had been signed," Reese said, "I thought, what position does he play? Then I found out he was a shortstop and I figured, damn it, there are nine positions on the field and this guy has got to be a shortstop like me. Then I figured some more. Maybe there'd be room for both of us on the team. What then? What would the people down around home say about me playing with a colored boy? I figured maybe they wouldn't like it, and then I figured something else. The hell with anyone that didn't like it. I didn't know Robinson, but I knew he deserved a chance, same as anybody else. It just didn't make any difference what anybody else had to say. He deserved a chance."
While the Dodgers trained in the city of Havana, Montreal drilled at Havana Military Academy, 15 miles away. The team was quartered at the school dormitory, but Robinson, who had been accompanied by a Negro pitcher named John Wright during 1946 and now was one of four Negroes in the Brooklyn organization, was booked into a Havana hotel. This meant 30 miles of travel daily and Robinson, unable to understand the reason for a Jim Crow pattern in Cuba, asked Rickey about it. "I can't afford to take a chance and have a single incident occur," Rickey answered. "This training session must be perfectly smooth."
For two weeks Montreal played exhibitions with a Dodger "B" squad and then the Royals and the Dodger regulars flew to Panama for a series of exhibitions. Shortly before the trip, Mel Jones, then business manager of the Royals, handed Robinson a first-baseman's mitt. "Listen," Robinson said, "I want to play second base. Didn't I do all right there last year?" Jones said he was sorry. "Just passing an order down from the boss," he said. "Mr. Rickey wants you at first base." Robinson did not do badly at first base in the Panama series, and in the seven games he batted .625 and stole seven bases. This was the demonstration Rickey had awaited. Unprejudiced Dodgers said they were impressed. Prejudiced Dodgers insisted that they were not. "I've seen hothittin' bushers before," one said. After the series the teams flew back to Cuba, and late one night Rickey passed along word to Robinson that on April 10 he was to become a Dodger. Eddie Stanky was the Dodger secondbaseman. Robinson would have to play first.
Happy Chandler's suspension of Leo Durocher had taken the spotlight away from Robinson by the time April 10 arrived, and in retrospect Jackie insists he was just as glad to have a respite from publicity. The Dodgers had not asked for his promotion and as a whole their reception was cool. Robinson in turn remained aloof.
Jack has dark memories of 1947. He was reading in the club car of a train once while several other Dodgers played poker. Hugh Casey, the pitcher, was having a hard time winning a pot, and finally he got up from the table and walked over to Robinson. Without a word Casey rubbed Robinson's head, then turned and went back to his card game.
In 1947, Burt Shotton, who replaced Durocher, put Robinson second in the Brooklyn batting order. On several occasions Dixie Walker hit home runs with Robinson on base, but at no time did Jackie follow baseball custom and shake Walker's hand at home plate. "I wasn't sure if he'd take my hand," Robinson said, "and I didn't want to provoke anything."
In 1947 the Philadelphia Phillies, under Ben Chapman, rode Robinson so hard that Commissioner Chandler interceded.
But there are other memories of 1947 for Robinson; more pleasant ones. Jeep Handley, a Philadelphia infielder, apologized for Chapman's namecalling. Clyde Sukeforth, a coach under Shotton, never once left Robinson's corner. Hank Greenberg told him: "Let's have a talk. There are a few things I've learned down through the years that can help make it easier for you."
One player on the Chicago Cubs attempted to organize a strike against Robinson, but was unsuccessful. The situation on the St. Louis Cardinals was more serious. Only splendid work by Stanley Woodward, a magnificent newspaperman who at the time was sports editor of the New York Herald-Tribune, brought the story to light. Only forthright work by Ford Frick, the president of the National League who has since become baseball commissioner, killed the Cardinal strike aborning.
The original Cardinal plan, as exposed by Woodward, called for a strike on May 6, date of the team's first game against the Dodgers. "Subsequently," Woodward wrote, "the St. Louis players conceived the idea of a general strike within the National League on a certain date." An uncompromising mandate from Frick to the players who were threatening to strike went like this: "If you do this, you will be suspended from the league. You will find that the friends you think you have in the press box will not support you, that you will be outcasts. I do not care if half the league strikes. All will be suspended . . . This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as any other."
If, in all the ten years of Jackie Robinson, there was a single moment when the success of his mission became assured, then it was the instant Frick issued this directive. It is impossible to order people to be tolerant, but once the price of intolerance becomes too high, the ranks of the bigots tend to grow slim.
For Robinson, 1947 was very much like 1946. He never argued with an umpire. When Lenny Merullo, a Chicago infielder, kneed him, Jackie checked the punch he wanted to throw. When Ewell Blackwell stopped pitching long enough to call him a long series of names, Robinson said only: "Come on. Throw the ball." Then he singled.
But gradually the web of tension in which Robinson performed began to loosen. In the spring of 1948, the Ku Klux Klan futilely warned him not to play in Atlanta. But by the summer of '48, Robinson had relaxed enough to argue with an umpire. This was in Pittsburgh, and he was joined by Clyde Sukeforth. The two argued so violently that they were ejected.
Robinson became a majorleague secondbaseman in 1948, but, except for an appearance before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, it was not a notable year for him. Called to Congress to refute Paul Robeson's statement that American Negroes would never fight against the Soviet Union, Robinson delivered an eloquent speech. Rickey and Lester Granger, head of the Urban League, a National Negro organization, helped him write it and applause came from all sides. On the field, however, Robinson slumped. He had grown fat over the winter and not until 1949 was Robinson to regain top form.
The Dodgers finished third in 1948 but in 1949, when Robinson won the batting championship and a most valuable player award, they won the pennant. By '49 Robinson felt free to criticize umpires whenever the spirit moved him; by '50 he was feuding with umpires and Leo Durocher and by '51 he was just about as controversial as he is today.
Currently Robinson will call a newspaperman down when he feels the reporter has been biased or inaccurate. Two seasons ago he had his most interesting argument with a reporter. Dick Young, of the Daily News, had written somewhat sharply about Robinson and then made a customary visit to the dugout before a Dodger game in Philadelphia. A few minutes before gametime nearly all the Dodgers were seated in the dugout and Young was standing nearby talking. "If you can't write the truth, you shouldn't write," Robinson shouted quite suddenly from his seat.
Unaware that Robinson was shouting at him, Young continued talking. "Yeah, you, Young," Robinson hollered. "You didn't write the truth."
George Shuba, the Dodger sitting next to Robinson, was studying the floor. Other Dodgers were staring at left field. None was saying anything.
"Ever since you went to Washington, Robinson," Young screamed as he attempted to seize the offensive, "your head has been too big."
"If the shoe fits," Robinson shouted, "wear it."
"Your head is big," Young screamed.
"If the shoe fits wear it," Robinson shouted.
The screaming and shouting continued until gametime, when Young left for the press box and Robinson devoted his attention to his job. "I couldn't let him get away with yelling at me in front of the whole team,"
Young said later. Relations between the two were cool for a while but time has healed the rift.
This season Robinson called down Francis Stann, a Washington columnist, before an exhibition game in Griffith Stadium. Stann had quoted an anonymous third party as saying that Robinson was about through and Robinson lashed him mercilessly and profanely.
"What good can that possibly do?" someone asked Robinson. "You'll only make an enemy."
"I can't help it," Robinson said. "I get so mad I don't know what I'm saying."
Why get so angry at newspapermen, who as a class are not more bigoted or biased than lawyers, congressmen or physicians? Well, newspapermen have hurt Robinson and in his lifetime Robinson has been hurt more than any man should be.
When a Dodger kicked in the door to the umpires' dressing room at Braves Field late in 1951, a Boston reporter blamed Robinson for the kicking. "I'm sorry, Jackie," the reporter said when he was told the truth. "It was right on the deadline and I didn't have time to check."
Another newspaperman once stole Robinson's name to use as a byline on a story consisting of lies and opinions with which Robinson did not agree. This was during a period of racial tension on the Dodgers and the reporter's piracy put Robinson in the position of lying about the most important cause in his life. No one could take this in stride, of course, but Robinson took it particularly badly.
The rantings at reporters are well-known in the newspaper business and possibly because they have made him a formidable target for all but the most bullvoiced of critics, Robinson has almost reveled in his notoriety. But he gets along with most reporters most of the time and he occasionally makes an effort to help one.
Three springs ago during the period when Robinson was associated with a magazine, he fell to chatting in Miami with a newspaperman whose newspaper had just died. They talked vaguely of baseball for ten minutes before the newspaperman without portfolio ambled off in the general direction of a martini.
"He didn't take any notes," Robinson mused aloud. "I guess I didn't give him a story."
A bystander pointed out that the man's paper had folded. "Well, what's he doing down here?" Robinson asked.
"Looking for a job in baseball, maybe."
“Is he is a bad way?” Robinson said bluntly.
“He’s not in a good way.”
“Well look,” Robinson said. “He can write, can’t he?”
“Well look,” Robinson repeated. "Tell him to go see the fellows at the magazine when he's in New York. I'll let them know he's coming and they'll give him some stories to write."
Robinson and the unemployed newspaperman had never been close. When a different sort of misfortune befell a sportswriter with whom he had been friendly, Robinson's reaction was even more direct and more swift. Telephoning about a luncheon, Robinson asked how things were and the sportswriter mentioned the death of a child.
"Oh, no," Robinson exclaimed. Instantly, he added: "How is your wife?"
"Not too bad."
"Is she home now?" Robinson asked.
"I'm going to call her," Robinson said and, without another word he hung up.
Later, the sportswriter's wife was explaining how much the call had moved her. "It wasn't just that Jackie called," she said. "It was the way he called. The first thing he said was: ‘I hope my bringing this up doesn't upset you, but I just want you to know that I'm sorry.’ That was a particularly sensitive thing to say. It was a lovely way to say something that I know must have been very hard for him to say at all."
There are assorted targets for Robinson's current wrath. He is a harsh benchjockey, and his needling is sharper than it ought to be. Even when he is not angry, he is so intent upon speaking his mind, regardless of whom he may hurt, that he is often indiscreet.
Jackie Robinson will speak his mind. This American Negro born in Georgia, bred in California, loved and hated everywhere, will not sit in the back of a bus or call all white men "Mister." He does not drawl his words and he isn't afraid of ghosts and he isn't ashamed of his skin and he never ever says: "Yowsah, boss." This American Negro, this dark symbol of enlightenment, is proud and educated and sensitive and indiscreet and hot-tempered and warmhearted.
Those who do not know Robinson will call him "trouble-maker." Those who do not understand him will call him "popoff guy." Perhaps both terms are right. Robinson has made trouble for bigots, more trouble than they could handle.
Branch Rickey, who supposedly is the finest scout in baseball history, chose Robinson with wisdom that borders upon clairvoyance, to right a single wrong. Robinson had the playing ability to become a super-star, plus the intelligence to understand the significance of his role. He had the fighting temperament to wring the most from his ability and he had the selfcontrol to keep his temper in check. Why has he let himself go?
One excuse might be that he has been called "nigger" a thousand times in ten baseball seasons; another is that he was scarred in his crusade. But, really Jackie Robinson doesn't need any excuse. If the man rugged enough to break baseball's color line turns out to be a thoroughly rugged man, no one has any license to be surprised.