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Century's Greatest Sports Accomplishment - Part 2

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 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.

Four players he did sign who became Rookies of the Year were Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Joe Black (1952) and Junior Gilliam (1953). But there were others he passed up.

Monte Irvin cold have been a Brooklyn Dodger, as well as Larry Doby. Sam Jethroe could have also been a Dodger, but Rickey had Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Joe Black.

And the 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?"

Rickey 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.

The great dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson called Jackie Robinson: "Ty Cobb in Technicolor." Others had much less complimentary words for the Brooklyn star.

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 said, "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!

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.

But 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 enriched the game of baseball with their talent, verve, drive, and commitment.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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