There was no Jackie Robinson Day in 1972. On the 25th anniversary of breaking the MLB color barrier on April 15, 1947, the league had not withdrawn his number. In fact, until June 1972, the Dodgers had never retired a number. They would do that for him, Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella. The league did not even recognize the most important moment in the history of the sport before Game 2 of the 1972 World Series in Cincinnati. Robinson received a muted response from the audience at Riverfront Stadium.
These days, no one has anything to do with Robinson. When you’ve been dead for almost 50 years – he passed nine days after that game – people can make you whatever they want. Robinson is one of the few black historical figures who was regularly taught to children my age in the 1990s. Even though you’re told he suffered great indignities as the first black person to play in the majors, that’s not the focus of the lesson. What is emphasized is how amazing it was that he suffered these insults without fighting back. Gren Rickey calls him into his office and calls him all racist names in the book. Robinson then asks Rickey if he wants a player who is afraid to strike back. Rickey replies that I want a player with the strength not to strike back. Robinson agrees not to reciprocate the racism that both know he will face in three years.
JACKIE ROBINSON AND THE MEN WHO FOLLOWED
Although he is the person that children are taught in picture books if they met him on April 15, 1972, he would have been different. He would not have been an illustration or a symbol, he would have been a man. A man who suffered all the insults of being the first black person in majors and was not happy 25 years after he broke the color barrier.
Robinson died at the age of 53 when his health failed him early. We did not get to see him become a professional writer like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his senior year or become without a doubt the most respected person in his sports history. Not only did he leave us early, he left us dissatisfied and unpopular.
The Los Angeles Times’ Ron Rapoport had a piece published yesterday with the title, Baseball honors Jackie Robinson, but Robinson does not honor baseball. Here’s why.
Robinson had been invited to many MLB events, but he mostly chose not to attend. There was a perception that he was bitter, and yes, that was him. But he was not just an angry old man. He was not even that old. He had a legitimate complaint. He was not happy with the way MLB treated its black players after they could no longer play, and the way white people in the game were tracked to manager and other roles that did not require playing grounders and controlling 1- 2 counts. – at that time, there had still been no black leaders.
He also talked about why some people did not have positive opinions about his attitude towards MLB after his retirement.
“I think if you look back at why people think of me the way they do,” Robinson told Rapoport. “It’s because white America does not like a black guy who stands up for what he believes in. I do not feel that baseball owes me anything and I do not owe baseball anything. I’m glad I have not been have to go to baseball on my knees. ”
Robinson was a fiercely proud black man. He kept it in check for as long as he had to, but he was not about to fall over himself because MLB gave him the opportunity to play. The league was wrong to keep black players out all these years, and just because it corrected the wrong one does not mean he was happy with the league’s progress.
It sounds like another black story figure with a high Q-score decades after his death. Yes, there is a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the American calendar, which was signed into law in 1983. But if Ronald Regan met Dr. King in 1968, while he was governor of California, he probably would not have even wanted to swap Christmas cards.
Dr. King was not satisfied either. He was not pleased that an obvious separation was banned and that basic voting rights were granted. He understood a significant problem when slavery was that black people were separated not only from water fountains but from the American economy. When America was in its darkest days, the government reached out to help during the Great Depression, but no hand was reached out to black people. Dr. King spoke many times, after the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, about how the US government looked financially to its white citizens but never offered any help to its black population who had been enslaved on American soil. An example: liberated slaves in 1865 were given land left by fleeing Confederates. That land, however, was later given back to the Confederates during the reconstruction, leaving the newly released slaves, who for most of their lives were legally prevented from earning a living and reading, without anything, as people who committed treasonous acts were treated , as if nothing had ever happened.
He wanted America, which offers help to black people, not to be seen as welfare, but instead as real economic equality. It did not go very well and he was looked upon by some, certainly the FBI, as one communist. His last act on Earth was to help black sanitation workers in Memphis strike with demands for equal pay and safe working conditions.
What both Dr. King and Robinson clearly understood, was that correcting racism involved more than just changing some laws and removing some signs. Being alive is not cheap. Outside of the air you breathe, everything costs money. Without it, there is no way for people to secure for themselves basic human decency. Dr. King and Robinson wanted blacks to have the same access to money and the same decency as white people, and they would not be content with anything less. By the mid-late 20th century, that left them both far from national holidays, and a jersey number was a sacred symbol of a sport.
Had they lived a full life, they might never have received these recognitions. Considering how both Dr. King and Robinson lashed out at Richard Nixon (who began advocating for civil rights before adopting the racist Southern strategy) during their lifetime, think if they both showed up Nightline in 1985. Their comments on America as the suburbs flourished and crack ravaged the inner cities would probably have deviated from Hulk Hogan’s introductory music.
So take a moment while looking at all the No. 42s across MLB football fields to remember that the man who is the cause of the whole day died unhappy and was considered ungrateful by some in life. It is 50 years since his death. Imagine what his opinion would be about the decades after, if he lived to be an 85-year-old man in 2004. Would there be a Jackie Robinson day at all?