Celebrating Jackie Robinson -
January 31, 2000
The first January of the new century is coming to an
end. It has been a very crowded sports month. But lest we forget - today
marks what would have been Jackie Roosevelt Robinson's 81st birthday.
He was born in Cairo, Georgia on the last day of January
in 1919, and died on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut. Robinson
attended UCLA, where he won letters in three sports.
He was in the Army during World War II and then played
briefly in the Negro Leagues when the war ended. He was signed to a minor
league contract with the Montreal Royals in 1946 by Branch Rickey, and the
following year came up to the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke baseball's
age-old color line.
He played in the major leagues for a decade. He won the
inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the National League Most
Valuable Player Award in 1949, and he helped the Dodgers win six pennants
and one world championship.
Despite all the pressure he played under, he was still
able to record a lifetime batting average of .311. His base-stealing
ability and hustle won many games for the Dodgers. He set several records
for fielding for second basemen.
His influence on sports is immeasurable. His breaking of
baseball's color line against the greatest of odds is still one of the
most dramatic stories in all of sports history. And there are those who
still have special memories of the man and the legend. Here is how one
from that time still remembers the great player Brooklyn Dodger fans
When school was out, I sometimes went with my father in
his taxi. One summer morning, we were driving in East Flatbush in Brooklyn
down Snyder Avenue. My father pointed to a dark red brick house with a
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,” my father said.
He parked across the street and we got out of the cab, stood on the
sidewalk and looked at the house. Suddenly, the front door opened. A black
man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I didn't believe it. Here we
were on a quiet street on a summer morning with no one else around.
The man was not wearing the baggy,
ice-cream-white-uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers that accentuated his
blackness. He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular
house in a regular Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else going out
for a bottle of milk and a newspaper.
Then, incredibly, he crossed the street and came right
toward me. Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the
shoulders and hips that I had seen so many times before on the baseball
field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I'm one of your biggest fans," I said
self-consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers are going to win the pennant
"His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We'll
try our best,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.”
“Thanks,” he replied.”
He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands
and I felt the strength and firmness of his grip. I was a nervy kid, but I
didn't ask for an autograph or try to prolong the conversation. I just he
walked away down the street.
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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