Jackie Robinson -
Harvey Frommer on Sports
the years I have had the opportunity to write three
books with Jackie Robinson content and dozens of articles. He has
one of my greatest sports heroes.
Lest we forget. Jack
Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on the last day of January in 1919
on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut. Robinson attended UCLA,
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
to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals in 1946 by Branch
and the following year came up to the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke
age-old color line on April 15, 1947.
He played in the major
leagues for a
decade. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the
League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and he helped the Dodgers
pennants and one world championship.
Despite all the pressure
under, he was still able to record a lifetime batting average of .311.
base-stealing ability and hustle won many games for the Dodgers. He set
records for fielding for second basemen.
His influence on sports is
His breaking of baseball's color line against the greatest of odds is
of the most dramatic stories in all of sports history. And there are
still have special memories of the man and the legend.
for your reading pleasure, a tasting menu.
of the perks I have experienced in writing sports books and articles
the interesting characters I have met, the friendships I have made.
One such person was Irving Rudd, a Damon Runyan type character who for
was the publicity director of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
Irving became a good friend of mine and my wife Myrna. His words enrich
Rickey and Robinson: the Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Line. His words
and over again enriched the five oral histories the Frommer have
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
winter weekend in 1954.
Irving and his wife and Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel went up to
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
Jackie goes out on the ice and proceeds to lose his balance and falls
his back. Geez! The image of Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers,
into my head. I just blew my job. Jackie Robinson just fractured
why didn't I stop him from skating?
Then Robinson gets up and
"C'mon, Irv, let's race!" He gives me that big smile.
So the two of us like two drunks go around the rink of Grossinger's.
flopping on his knees. I'm sliding on my can. We get up and keep going
flopping and going and flopping and going. And he beats me by five
"Let's do it again," he
we go. This time he beats me by about 20 yards.
"One more time," he says.
By now, he's really skating. He is such a natural, gifted athlete. He's
like a guy who has been at it for weeks. It's no contest. He's almost
the field on me.
Now there's a crowd that's
and they're cheering. He puts his arms around me, and he wasn't a
man. "Irv," he says,
"am I glad you were here this weekend with me. I just had to beat
before I went home."
That story give true insight into Jack Roosevelt Robinson and what he
through in his time as a Brooklyn Dodger. And what a time it was:
played in the major leagues for a decade. He won the inaugural Rookie
Year Award in 1947, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in
he helped the Dodgers win six pennants and one world championship.
the pressure he played under, Jackie Robinson was still able to record
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
ushered in a whole new era in baseball and in all sports. All
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
owed Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
is how I described what it was
like at the very start in my book Rickey
With the blue number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger home
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
champion of the world.
Many of the 26,633 at that
ballpark on that chilly spring day were not even baseball fans, but had
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.
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
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
For Robinson it was a muted performance, but the first of his 1,382
league games was in the record books - and he had broken baseball's
"I was nervous on my first day in my first game at Ebbets Field,"
Robinson told reporters afterward. "But nothing has bothered me
On April 18, 1947, at the Polo Grounds, in the shadow of the largest
community in the country, Jackie Robinson smashed his first major
run as the Dodgers defeated the Giants, 10-4.
Writer James Baldwin had noted: "Back in the thirties and
Joe Louis was the only hero that we ever had. When he won a fight,
Harlem was up in heaven. On that April day the large contingent of
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
part media event - the Jackie Robinson story played out its poignant,
and historic scenes through that 1947 season.
Toward the end of the season, a Jackie Robinson Day was staged at
Robinson was now a major drawing card rivaling Bob Feller and Ted
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
new car, a television and radio set and an electric broiler.
The famed and great dancer “Bill “Bojangles” Robinson stood next
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
Ty Cobb in Technicolor."
The motivations of Brooklyn Dodger general Manager Branch
always been questioned.
Why did he sign Jackie
How much of what he did came from
a moral conviction that the color line must go, and how much came from
to make money and field a winning team?
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,
elected not to monopolize the rich lode of talent in the Negro
Monte Irvin cold have been a Brooklyn Dodger, as well as other Negro
greats like Larry
Satchel Paige. But Rickey had
Don Newcombe and Joe Black. He was
very much in favor of the other teams integrating, too.
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
good as Jackie and Campy and Newk?"
Branch Rickey invented the baseball farm system when he was with the
Cardinals and presided over their famous Gashouse gang. He was an
brilliant baseball man. He ran the Dodgers with a calm efficiency. Part
calm efficiency translated to advising Robinson well. Reacting to the
and threats, and fighting back against the bigots could win a battle.
much protesting could lose the war.
Jackie Robinson took the abuse: the cut signs by players near their
the verbal curses, the spiking attempts, the cold shouldering, the
threats that came in the
By 1949, Jackie Robinson was in his third season as a Brooklyn Dodger
no longer the lone black man on the baseball diamond - he could now let
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
thing or two."
Jackie's wife Rachel Robinson told me: "It was hard for a man as
as Jack to contain his own rage, yet he felt that the end goal was so
that there was no question that he would do it. And he knew he could do
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
leads, the football-like slides, the change of pace runs all were part
Robinson’s approach to the game.
Today Jackie Robinson remains the stuff of dreams, the striving for
the substance of accomplishment. Today he remains a powerful, driving
a person with limitless athletic ability, the weight of his people on
raging against a world he didn't make.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson played for the Dodgers of Brooklyn for a
then he was done. Not many remember that he was actually traded to the
Giants in 1956 - -but he refused to go. The owner of the Giants
Stoneham presented Robinson with a blank check –“Fill in the
“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
breaking the color line in baseball will last through all eternity. He
path for many to follow, and they have enriched the game of baseball
talent, verve, drive, and commitment. It has become a better
I had the good fortune
Jack’s brother Mack Robinson in Pasadena, California. I was a bit
he taped me taping him. He was that suspicious of writers. But that is
“From time to time, Mack
told me, “I’m
watching sporting events and I look at the TV screen and I see Jackie
I look at the whole spectrum of black America’s life from 1900 to 1947.
no longer the butlers, the servants, the maid. We’re senators and
We’re baseball managers. I trace it back to my brother and Branch
breaking the color line and creating a social revolution in a
man’s world. Blacks have excelled in all areas because Jackie Robinson
the world we could.?
The last words in my Rickey and Robinson also belong to Irving
"I always used to think of who I would like going down a dark
with me. I can think of a lot of great fighters, gangsters I was raised
Brownsville, strong men like Gil Hodges. But for sheer courage, I would
Jackie (Robinson). He didn't back up."
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
morning, we were driving in East Flatbush down Snyder Avenue when he
out a dark red brick house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie
lives there," he said. He parked across the street, and we got out of
cab, stood on the sidewalk, and looked at it.
opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I didn’t
Here we were on a quiet street on a summer morning. No one else was
This man was not wearing the baggy, ice-cream-white uniform of the
Dodgers that accentuated his blackness. He was dressed in regular
coming out of a regular house in a regular Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy
anyone else, going for a newspaper and a bottle of milk.
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
on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I’m
your biggest fans," I said self-consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers
gonna win the pennant this year?”
His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll try our best,”he
“Thanks.” He put
hand out, and I took it. We shook hands, and I felt the strength and
of his grip.
I was a nervy
kid, but I
didn’t ask for an autograph or think to prolong the conversation. I
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.
Harvey Frommer, a professor at
Dartmouth College in the MALS program, is in his 40th year of writing
noted oral historian and sports journalist, he is the author of 42
including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball,
best-selling Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, as well as his
Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park.
praised When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl was
Frommer Baseball Classic –
Remembering Yankee Stadium (Second Edition) is his newest sports
Autographed copies at the ready of this and his other books. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781630761554/Remembering-Yankee-Stadium-Second-Edition
Frommer is a work on THE ULTIMATE YANKEE BOOK (2017)