The SPORT Gallery on Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson: Through our Lens

What more is there to say about Jackie Robinson? His story has been told in films, books, magazines, and newspapers, through exhibitions and online media. Major League Baseball has retired his number league-wide and celebrates Jackie Robinson Day every year on April 15th. He is not only a sporting star but a hero of social justice and equality. His name is arguably one of the most important and recognizable in American history.

Robinson deserves all of this attention and praise, of course. By becoming the first African-American to play the national pastime on the national stage, he single-handedly defied the racist groundwork of the United States and proved that all people were, in fact, equal. He was an excellent ballplayer, one who made an immediate impact on the field despite having an unimaginable amount of pressure heaped upon him. Robinson won Rookie of the Year in 1947 and was also the National League’s stolen base leader. Over his career he was named the NL MVP, won a batting title and another stolen base title, and made six All-Star Game appearances. To cap it all off Robinson won a World Series in 1955, his penultimate season.

His story has been told countless times because it is important. And because, as recent political  events prove, it is still relevant. Though Robinson always claimed to be nothing more than a ballplayer, the circumstances under which he played ensured that his career would be like no other’s. Each hit stood for something more: a step forward for human rights. The word legend is thrown around frequently in the sporting world, but there are few, if any, who deserve the title more than Jackie Robinson.

So, no matter how much has been said about number 42, there is always more to say. Here at The SPORT Gallery we are privileged to work with some amazing photographs of Robinson, all of them rare. They span his professional career, from minor league ball in Montreal to the twilight years in Brooklyn. There are photographs of the man, not the athlete, at home playing with his kids. A personal favourite is Robinson alone at Ebbets Field, the half-empty stands behind him. Something about the way the photo was taken or developed gives it a psychedelic feel; the banisters and seats, normally red, look pink and purple, and the blue of Robinson’s uniform has a green-grey tint. The legend seen through a different lens.

It is not surprising that of the 250,000-plus images from The SPORT Collection, one of the most popular features Robinson. In it he fights to evade the tag of Philadelphia Phillies’ third baseman Putsy Caballero, a fitting metaphor for Robinson’s greater struggle for tolerance and acceptance. In 1947, a year prior, the Dodger great weathered a now infamous verbal assault; Phillies manager Ben Chapman directed endless racial slurs and taunts towards Robinson mid-game, the severity of which inspired considerable backlash. At a time of inequality and segregation, it was significant to have the public come to Robinson’s defence. The image itself is stunning as it captures perfectly a moment of movement and uncertainty. Robinson’s foot is approximately the same distance from the bag as the ball is from tagging him out, black and white dust rising behind him as he slides. The timing could not be better.

Just as it is a privilege to preserve these amazing images, it is also a privilege to share them with the public. As 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the colour barrier, The SPORT Gallery celebrated his legend this year on Jackie Robinson Day.

Robinson took baseball seriously; he was a competitive person with a strong passion for the game, and being the first African-American in MLB demanded composure and stoicism. But his play, fast and free, showed a lighter spirit within, as did his relationships with family and teammates. Both sides of Robinson make up his legacy and both sides have been discussed at length. We are proud to continue the conversation here at The SPORT Gallery.

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