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.
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.
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.
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.
- Jackie Robinson - The Negro Leagues: A Brief History
- Jackie Robinson - Multi-sport Star
- Other Free Encyclopedias