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Jackie Robinson

Part Of Noble Experiment

In August 1945, Rickey brought Robinson to Brooklyn and offered him a chance to play baseball for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' principal minor league team. Rickey told Robinson that if he succeeded, he could play in the major leagues. The watershed meeting lasted hours, as Rickey interrogated Robinson and tested his ability to turn the other cheek. Rickey, a devout Methodist who despised profanity, turned to role-playing, and, posing as an unwelcoming hotel clerk, or a Southern sportswriter, berated Robinson with every racist insult he could muster.

Rickey taunted and teased Robinson until, at one point, according to Glenn Stout's book, Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines, an aggravated Robinson called out, "Mr. Rickey, what do you want? Do you want a ballplayer who is afraid to fight back?"

"I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back," Rickey replied.

Rickey understood that character would weigh more heavily in baseball's integration that batting average. Rickey envisioned a peaceful infiltration and told Robinson that he could, under no circumstances, fight back or he'd ruin his chances. Thus, baseball's "noble experiment" began.

The Negro Leagues: A Brief History

Following the Civil War (1861-1865), baseball boomed as a popular pastime among both black and white athletes. In 1867, the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed, but from its inception, the league voted to bar black players.

A few years later, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players did not outright bar African-American players, although there was a "gentleman's agreement" among owners not to allow blacks.

With blacks yearning for a league of their own, the Negro National League was organized in 1920, followed by the Eastern Colored League in 1923. In 1924, the first all-black World Series took place.

A Negro League season consisted of about 60 to 80 league games. In addition, the teams each averaged 100 exhibition games, generally against other semi-pro squads, small-town teams, and teams with a few white major-leaguers.

Black ballplayers enjoyed exhibitions against major league teams or those with major league players. According to The Negro Baseball Leagues by David K. Fremon, from 1900 to 1950, Negro League teams playing against teams with white major-leaguers won 268 such contests. The major league-stocked teams won 168. In 1912, Smokey Joe Williams shut out the New York Giants and New York Yankees within a two-week period. In the early 1920s, the baseball commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Lands, outlawed such intra league games.

Negro Leagues' innovations included night games. By 1930, the Monarchs began traveling with a set of portable floodlights. Attendance nearly tripled because day laborers could come. White major league baseball introduced night games in 1935.

By the early 1960s, the last Negro League club had folded. The Baseball Hall of Fame was under pressure to recognize the talents of Negro League players who, undoubtedly, would have made the Hall had they been allowed to play. In 1971, Satchel Paige became the first Negro Leaguer enshrined.

Before joining the Montreal Royals for spring training in 1946, Robinson married Rachel Isum. The honeymoon soon ended when Robinson arrived in Daytona Beach and found himself barred from the whites-only Riviera seaside motel where his teammates stayed. Not that it mattered—Robinson's teammates didn't care for him, because the attention he drew made them leery. Also, Robinson's presence cut into their playing time. Many communities canceled exhibition games with the Royals because local law prohibited race-mixing. While playing in Sanford, Florida, Robinson singled, stole second base, then scored on a hit only to find the sheriff waiting in the dugout with handcuffs. He was removed from the game. When Robinson got the chance to play, he faced attacks from opponents, who slid into base with their spikes flashing toward his face or shins. Pitchers threw beanballs at his head. But Robinson didn't complain.

Amid the tension, Robinson won the International League batting title with a .349 average. That season, he drove in 66 runs to help his team win the pennant. He was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

In time, Robinson was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 15, 1947, Robinson shattered baseball's color barrier when he played first base for the Dodgers against the Boston Braves. He wore uniform No. 42, which today, has been retired from every ball-club in deference to Robinson.

Being the only black player in a white baseball world proved tough for Robinson. His teammates passed a petition to have him removed from the roster. Rickey, however, told the players that if they didn't adjust their thinking, he would be glad to let them go. In addition, Robinson and his family faced death threats.

Opponents were cruel to Robinson, too, and throughout games hurled race-baiting taunts at him. In addition, crowds showered Robinson with trash, tomatoes, and watermelon slices. The abuse got so bad Robinson's teammates eventually rallied around him. Pitchers knocked him down. He barely survived the first few months, then channeled his anger into his play and began to thrive, winning 1947 Rookie of the Year honors and leading the Dodgers to the National League pennant.

In 1948, Robinson switched from first base to second base and came alive. His 1949 season proved phenomenal, and Robinson led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. Voted the league's Most Valuable Player, Robinson also appeared in his first of six consecutive All-Star games.

One of Robinson's best weapons was his base-running finesse. With his cheetah-fast speed, Robinson could turn a single into a double. Once on base, Robinson would dance around and rattle the pitcher. He was particularly dangerous on third base, stealing home 19 times over his career. This became his signature play. Though he didn't do it often, the threat remained. His most famous steal of home came in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series in New York, off Yankees star pitcher Whitey Ford. Historic footage showed the steal, followed by catcher Yogi Berra's heated argument with plate umpire Bill Summers.

Between 1948 and 1953, Robinson's batting average was .323; he averaged 108 runs scored, 91 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Only Stan Musial and Ted Williams played close to his average during this period. In addition, Robinson led second basemen with double plays from 1949 to 1952.

The Dodgers clinched the National League pennant six times during Robinson's 10 years with the team, winning the World Series for the first time in 1955.

Career Statistics

BRO: Brooklyn Dodgers; KAN: Kansas City Monarchs (Negro League); MON: Montreal Royals (International League).
*Total reflects his 10 years with the Brooklyn Dodgers (excludes play in Negro League and International League).
1945 KAN .387 47 163 36 63 5 23 13
1946 MON .349 124 444 113 155 3 66 92 27 40 10
1947 BRO .297 151 590 125 175 12 48 74 36 29 16
1948 BRO .296 147 574 108 170 12 85 57 37 22 15
1949 BRO .342 156 593 122 203 16 124 86 27 37 16
1950 BRO .328 144 518 99 170 14 81 80 24 12 11
1951 BRO .338 153 548 106 185 19 88 79 27 25 7
1952 BRO .308 149 510 104 157 19 75 106 40 24 20
1953 BRO .329 136 484 109 159 12 95 74 30 17 6
1954 BRO .311 124 386 62 120 15 59 63 20 7 7
1955 BRO .256 105 317 51 81 8 36 61 18 12 10
1956 BRO .275 117 357 61 98 10 43 60 32 12 9
*TOTAL .311 1382 4877 947 1518 137 734 740 291 197 117

By 1956, however, the struggles were beginning to slow Robinson. His hair had grayed, and he was heavier. He was also battling diabetes. Traded to the archrival New York Giants at the end of the 1956 season, he decided to retire, and in 1962, was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Jackie Robinson, sliding into home plate

Following baseball, Robinson became vice president of Chock Full O' Nuts, a restaurant chain that marketed its coffee nationwide. Robinson then became more involved in trying to make integration a social and economic reality. He was integral in founding Harlem's Freedom National Bank, marched with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised funds for the NAACP's "Freedom Fund Drive."

Disabled by diabetes that impeded his mobility and nearly blinded him, Robinson died on October 24, 1972, in Stamford, Connecticut, leaving behind a wife and two surviving children. His eldest son, Jackie Robinson, Jr., had died in a car crash in 1971.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBaseballJackie Robinson Biography - Born To A Sharecropper, Chronology, Multi-sport Star, Part Of Noble Experiment, The Negro Leagues: A Brief History