Jackie Robinson Number 42
||With the release of the
new film focused on “Number 42,” interest in
Jackie Robinson has been revived and
rightfully so. He is an important historical
figure. And I had the opportunity to do a
lot of writing about Jack Roosevelt Robinson
in several of my books.
So for your reading pleasure, a tasting
One of the perks I have experienced in
writing sports books and articles has been
the interesting characters I have met, the
friendships I have made.
One such person was Irving Rudd, a Damon
Runyan type character who for a time was the
publicity director of the old Brooklyn
Irving became a good friend of mine and my
wife Myrna. His words enrich my book RICKEY
AND ROBINSON. His words over and over again
enriched the five oral histories the Frommer
Jackie Robinson and Irving Rudd had a
special relationship. What follows is an
insight into the black pioneer from our book
IT HAPPENED IN THE CATSKILLS. It comes to
you in the voice of Irving Rudd.
Recalling a winter weekend in
1954. Irving and his wife and Jackie Robinson and
his wife Rachel went up to the famed Grossinger's
Hotel for some relaxation.
IRVING RUDD: "You skate?" Jackie Robinson asked.
"Not very well." I answered.
"C'mon, Irv; let's go skating anyway."
I said, "Okay," and we all went to the icehouse. We
put skates on. The wives go to the rail to watch.
Jackie goes out on the ice and proceeds to lose his
balance and falls flat on his back. Geez! The image
of Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers, came
into my head. I just blew my job. Jackie Robinson
just fractured something - why didn't I stop him
Then Robinson gets up and brushes himself off.
"C'mon, Irv, let's race!" He gives me that big
So the two of us like two drunks go around the rink
of Grossinger's. He's flopping on his knees. I'm
sliding on my can. We get up and keep going and
flopping and going and flopping and going. And he
beats me by five yards.
"Let's do it again," he says.
Around we go. This time he beats me by about 20
"One more time," he says.
By now, he's really skating. He is such a natural,
gifted athlete. He's skating like a guy who has been
at it for weeks. It's no contest. He's almost lapped
the field on me.
Now there's a crowd that's gathered and they're
cheering. He puts his arms around me, and he wasn't
a demonstrative man. "Irv," he says, "am I glad you
were here this weekend with me. I just had to beat
someone before I went home."
That story give true insight into Jack Roosevelt
Robinson and what he went through in his time as a
Brooklyn Dodger. And what a time it was: 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, Jackie Robinson was still able to
record a lifetime batting average of .311.
From my point of view there is no event in sports
history as significant as the breaking of baseball's
color Line. It changed the national pastime forever.
It ushered in a whole new era in baseball and in all
sports. All these long years after Robinson's death
at the age of only 53 in 1972 - -more athletes, not
just the black ones, would be well served to
remember the debt owed Jackie Robinson and Branch
Here is how I described what it was like at the very
start in my book RICKEY AND ROBINSON.
With the blue number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn
Dodger home uniform, Jackie Robinson took his place
at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. It
was 32 years to the day since Jack Johnson had
become the first black heavyweight champion of the
Many of the 26,633 at that tiny ballpark on that
chilly spring day were not even baseball fans, but
had come out to see "the one" who would break the
sport's age-old color line. Robinson's wife, Rachel,
was there along with the infant Jackie, Jr. Many in
the crowd wore "I'm for Jackie" buttons and badges,
and screamed each time the black pioneer came to bat
or touched the ball.
Jackie Robinson grounded out to short his first time
up. He was retired on a fly ball to left field in
his second at bat. He grounded into a rally-killing
double play in his final at bat of the day.
The Dodgers won the game, 5-3, nipping Johnny Sain
and the Boston Braves. For Robinson it was a muted
performance, but the first of his 1,382 major league
games was in the record books - and he had broken
baseball's color line forever.
"I was nervous on my first day in my first game at
Ebbets Field," Robinson told reporters afterward.
"But nothing has bothered me since."
On April 18, 1947, at the Polo Grounds, in the
shadow of the largest black community in the
country, Jackie Robinson smashed his first major
league home run as the Dodgers defeated the Giants,
Writer James Baldwin had noted: "Back in the
thirties and forties, Joe Louis was the only hero
that we ever had. When he won a fight, everybody in
Harlem was up in heaven. On that April day the large
contingent of blacks in the crowd of nearly 40, 000
had another hero to be "up in heaven" about, another
hero to stand beside Joe Louis."
Part sociological phenomenon, part entertainment
spectacle, part revolution, part media event - the
Jackie Robinson story played out its poignant,
dramatic and historic scenes through that 1947
Toward the end of the season, a Jackie Robinson Day
was staged at Ebbets Field. Robinson was now a major
drawing card rivaling Bob Feller and Ted Williams in
the American League.
`"I thank you all." Robinson said over the
microphone in that high-pitched voice. He
acknowledged the gifts he'd received, which included
a new car, a television and radio set and an
The famed and great dancer “Bill “Bojangles”
Robinson stood next to Jackie Robinson. "I am 69
years old," Bill Robinson said. "But I never thought
I would live to see the day when I would stand face
to face with Ty Cobb in Technicolor."
The motivations of Brooklyn Dodger general Manager
Branch Rickey have always been questioned. Why did
he sign Jackie Robinson? How much of what he did
came from a moral conviction that the color line
must go, and how much came from a desire to make
money and field a winning team?
Monte Irvin,who wrote the foreword to my book who
came up to star for the New York Giants in 1949,
suggests that what Rickey did is far more important
than why he did it.
"Regardless of the motives," Irvin observes, "Rickey
had the conviction to pursue and to follow through."
Breaking baseball's color line enabled Rickey to tap
into a gold mine, but he elected not to monopolize
the rich lode of talent in the Negro Leagues.
Monte Irvin cold have been a Brooklyn Dodger, as
well as other Negro League greats like Larry Doby,
Sam Jethroe, Satchel Paige. But Rickey had Robinson,
Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Joe Black. He was
very much in favor of the other teams integrating,
Bigoted major league club owners who had called
Rickey complaining, "You're gonna kill baseball
bringing that nigger in now," were now asking,
"Branch, do you know where I can get a couple of
colored boys as good as Jackie and Campy and Newk?"
Branch Rickey invented the baseball farm system when
he was with the St. Louis Cardinals and presided
over their famous Gashouse gang. He was an
incredibly brilliant baseball man. He ran the
Dodgers with a calm efficiency. Part of that calm
efficiency translated to advising Robinson well.
Reacting to the taunts and threats, and fighting
back against the bigots could win a battle. But too
much protesting could lose the war.
Jackie Robinson took the abuse: the cut signs by
players near their throats, the verbal curses, the
spiking attempts, the cold shouldering, the death
threats that came in the mail.
By 1949, Jackie Robinson was in his third season as
a Brooklyn Dodger and was no longer the lone black
man on the baseball diamond - he could now let it
all hang out. Branch Rickey who had kept the man
Dodger fans called "Robby" under wraps was elated.
"I sat back happily," Rickey recalled, "knowing that
with the restraints removed, Robinson was going to
show the National League a thing or two."
Jackie's wife Rachel Robinson told me: "It was hard
for a man as assertive as Jack to contain his own
rage, yet he felt that the end goal was so critical
that there was no question that he would do it. And
he knew he could do it even better if he could
ventilate, express himself, use his own style."
And what a style it was!
At times the style seemed to be a case of trick
photography. He was an illusionist in a baseball
uniform, a magician on the base paths. The walking
leads, the football-like slides, the change of pace
runs all were part of Robinson’s approach to the
Today Jackie Robinson remains the stuff of dreams,
the striving for potential, the substance of
accomplishment. Today he remains a powerful, driving
symbol of a person with limitless athletic ability,
the weight of his people on his soul, raging against
a world he didn't make.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson played for the Dodgers of
Brooklyn for a decade, and then he was done. Not
many remember that he was actually traded to the New
York Giants in 1956 - -but he refused to go. The
owner of the Giants Horace Stoneham presented
Robinson with a blank check –“Fill in the amount…”
Jackie refused. “I came in as a Dodger and that’s
how I go out,” he said. “Thanks anyway.”
The thanks is due the man they called “Robby” for
what he accomplished in breaking the color line in
baseball will last through all eternity. He blazed a
path for many to follow, and they have enriched the
game of baseball with their talent, verve, drive,
and commitment. It has become a better game.
I had the good fortune to interview Jack’s brother
Mack Robinson in Pasadena, California. I was a bit
shocked that he taped me taping him. He was that
suspicious of writers. But that is another story.
“From time to time, Mack told me, “I’m watching
sporting events and I look at the TV screen and I
see Jackie Robinson. I look at the whole spectrum of
black America’s life from 1900 to 1947. We’re no
longer the butlers, the servants, the maid. We’re
senators and congressmen. We’re baseball managers. I
trace it back to my brother and Branch Rickey
breaking the color line and creating a social
revolution in a white man’s world. Blacks have
excelled in all areas because Jackie Robinson showed
the world we could.?
The last words in my RICKEY AND ROBINSON also belong
to Irving Rudd:
"I always used to think of who I would like going
down a dark alley with me. I can think of a lot of
great fighters, gangsters I was raised with in
Brownsville, strong men like Gil Hodges. But for
sheer courage, I would pick Jackie (Robinson). He
didn't back up."
Finally, a story that appears in IT HAPPENED IN
BROOKLYN, the oral history I wrote along with my
wife Myrna Katz Frommer.
The speaker is identified as MAX WECHSLER:
When school was out, I sometimes went with my father
in his taxi. One summer morning, we were driving in
East Flatbush down Snyder Avenue when he pointed out
a dark red brick house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,?he said. He
parked across the street, and we got out of the cab,
stood on the sidewalk, and looked at it.
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. No one else was around. This 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 for a newspaper and a
bottle of milk.
Then incredibly, he crossed the street and came
right towards me. Seeing that unmistakable
pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips
I had seen so many times 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
gonna win the pennant this year?”
His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll
try our best,” he said.
“Good luck,” said.
“Thanks.” He put his big hand out, and I took it. We
shook hands, and I felt the strength and firmness of
I was a nervy kid, but I didn’t ask for an autograph
or think to prolong the conversation. I just watched
as he walked away down the street.
At last the truth can be told. I am blowing my own
cover. That kid, was me.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
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.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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